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Deadly Tour Mishap Claims 3
     I've been going to punk rock shows in Portland since I was 15, in 1979, and though there were a dozen or so years in New York, it was the music of Portland that finally drew me back.  It has been my pleasure, especially lately, to see Portland's music underground again burgeoning with raw, rockin', freaky talent of endless persuasions and of all ages--supported by an expansive community including a bunch of super-energized "kids," born around the time of my very first show.  Among the unbelievably great bands shaking our asses hereabouts, has been the fabulous pop sensation, the Exploding Hearts, whose debut album Guitar Romantic (Dirtnap Records), celebrates the band's love affair with the likes of Nick Lowe, Buzzcocks, the Undertones, and bubblegum.  The band was on their way to having a breakthrough hit--their music is that contagious.
      After a certain amount of time loving the rock and roll, though, you also begin to experience the pitfalls and witness casualties of "the life."  There is often too much too soon.  Even so, nothing could have prepared any of us, of any age, for the news that devastated so many in Portland--and so many families and loved ones everywhere--on Sunday, July 20.  Around 6 a.m. that morning, the band and manager Ratch Aronica were just north of Eugene, in the homestretch of a drive back from a triumphant S.F. showcase weekend, when their van swerved, hit the shoulder, then the gravel, and then spun and flipped.  Only guitarist Terry Six and Ratch--mercifully and miraculously--survived, with relatively minor injuries.  Only Ratch had been wearing a seat belt, even while lying on the van bench sleeping, and she's sure that's what saved her life.
     The three who died--singer/guitarist Adam "Baby" Cox, 23, bass player Matthew "Matt Lock" Fitzgerald, 20, and drummer Jeremy "Kid Killer" Gage, 21--were all thrown from the vehicle.  Adam and Jeremy were dead at the scene, and Matt died later at the hospital, when efforts to save him failed.  The magnitude of this tragedy has hit hard.  Compounding the grief is that each of these three young men was a unique and promising talent in his own right, brimming with personality, energy, and attitude.  Their "teenage faces", their spirit and presence, are sorely missed.
     Some reports have cited driver fatigue as the cause of the crash.  However, a faulty steering mechanism or other mechanical failure is more likely to have contributed to the suddenness and severity of the accident.  Ratch already had her doubts about the van's overall roadworthiness, and so had agreed to ride in it for just this one trip.   Also, Matt, the driver, had just taken a long roadside nap, and was not prone to sleepiness anyway.  Ratch and Terry were asleep at the time, but her impression is that Matt was having problems steering, overcorrected for some reason--possibly to avoid another car--then lost control of the heavily loaded vehicle.
     We can only hope this split-second loss will hammer it home to bands to make sure your tour van is solid and safe!  Remember:  Your vehicle must be up to task, or it's just not worth the risk.  Make sure all parts are in good working order, your gear is tightly secured, and consider the weight you are riding with--and whether to retrofit with seat belts.  (Please!)  Always use "the buddy system," to make sure the driver's not tired--and don't drive impaired.  If you're tired, pull over and sleep.  Safer touring for other bands is the sole potential positive outcome of this sad event. 
     (The Web sites www.dirtnaprecs.com and www.explodinghearts.com are posting updated info regarding benefit shows and funds, and Dirtnap Records has a message board allowing family, friends, and fans to seek some respite, sharing their memories and love for the boys and the music, as well as the sorrow.)
Christeen Aebi