A close friend of a man who died from an overdose at a music festival last year has said they were aware of the dangers of taking drugs “but did it anyway”.
The friend, who can’t be identified, gave evidence today at an ongoing inquest into the deaths of a spate of young people at music festivals in NSW between 2017 and 2019.
The inquest, at the NSW Coroners Court in Sydney’s west, is looking at the circumstances behind why Nathan Tran, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Tam, and Alexandra Ross-King, all aged between 18 and 23, died after attending music festivals including Defqon. 1, Lost Paradise and Knockout Circuz.
Brisbane rugby fanatic and budding businessman Joshua Tam, 22, died in hospital on December 29, 2018 after attending the Lost Paradise music festival on the NSW Central Coast.
Mr Tam’s friend gave the inquest a detailed timeline of the victim’s final tragic hours and said his friend began “freaking out” after he had taken MDMA.
At times, Mr Tam’s mate began to choke up as he recalled the effect the death had on him and their social group.
He said a group of around 15 people travelled towards the festival. Discussions had taken place about taking drugs and alcohol into the festival, even though they were aware it was against the event’s rules.
The group bought in around 3g of MDMA in the form of three “crystal rocks”. Each rock was contained in a ziplock bag.
He said the day was scorching, with the car thermometer reading 40C: “It was hot and uncomfortable,” he said.
After spending several hours setting up a tent outside the main festival area, he and Mr Tam went to attempt and wet their heads at the shower blocks, but the shower water was “about 1000 degrees”.
They ended up wetting themselves with lukewarm water from a nearby water tank but “it wasn’t cold, it was lukewarm”.
“It was crazy hot. We brought little fans that we were going to use hang in our tents and put them against our face.”
He said they had water bottles, but some of it had alcohol in them. Mr Tam had a 1.5L bottle of vodka he was drinking from.
Around midafternoon, he said Mr Tam took around one gram of MDMA.
Counsel Assisting the Coroner Peggy Dwyer asked about whether he knew of the dangers of both taking drugs and mixing drugs with alcohol.
“We all knew the dangers of it but did it anyway. Something like this had never happened to us; someone close by had never been affected negatively,” he said.
“I didn’t think anyone would die. I’ve seen people have big nights and be affected differently but a fatality, no.”
Asked by Ms Dwyer if he knew that the hot temperatures on the day could add to the risk of taking MDMA, Mr Tam’s friend said: “I was aware, but I wasn’t thinking of it on the day.”
About 4pm the group went into the festival proper with Mr Tam said to be “happy” and “looking forward to the event”.
But an hour later, friends became to become concerned for his wellbeing.
“I noticed him walking around by himself. He’d said he’d lost his bank card and he was worried. To which we all reassured him not to worry and we’d cancel it, buy him drinks,” said Mr Tam’s friend.
“He was freaking out a bit about losing his bank card.”
Around 15 minutes later, the friend realised Mr Tam — who they assumed would come and dance with them — had vanished.
“We had an inkling that (something was wrong). We got back to the campsite and when he wasn’t there, that’s when we rally started worrying,” he told the inquest.
The group split up to try and search for Mr Tam. They checked the site and the medical tent to no avail.
His friend had regularly been calling Mr Tam’s phone which eventually was answered by a detective notifying him that he had been taken to Gosford hospital.
“The detectives got (Mr Tam’s) bag and then I started fretting a bit. They wouldn’t answer any of our questions. We were getting more and more worried the longer it went on and we just wanted to get in the car and go to hospital.”
Earlier the inquest had heard an unknown woman found Mr Tam conscious but incoherent and agitated. It was said he had taken “four or five” pills.
He was found lying on the ground and incoherent.
The court heard he was combative towards people who tried to help — which was “out of character”.
He was taken to Gosford Hospital, but went into cardiac arrest en-route and died at 7pm that day.
Choking up, Mr Tam’s friend said they “would never touch MDMA again”.
He said it was vital pill testing was available at festivals: “It’s stupid not to have pill testing. I just think how much one death has affected myself and everyone, if we can save one person then we’ve done our job.
“The stigma around pill testing needs to go. People need to be reassured they are not going to get in trouble”.
Last week, Mr Tam’s parents also gave a powerful statement to the court saying nobody should have to die at 22 for making a bad decision.
His mother, Julia Tam broke down as she told the court: “Our kid was a kid just like yours.”
“Six kids can’t die at a music festival without the rules changing,” she added.
Outside court, his parents said Australia is “missing something” in its battle to stop young people taking illicit drugs — and warned that it will only worsen unless we buck our ideas up.