Italian police probing deadly stampede find pepper spray can

ROME (AP) — Italian police investigating a deadly disco stampede said Sunday they found a pepper spray can and were questioning dozens of witnesses Sunday following accounts by concertgoers that a teenage boy had sprayed an irritating substance, triggering the mad rush by the crowd to flee.

It wasn’t known if the can found was the one whose spray apparently set off the stampede about 1 a.m. Saturday in a crowd awaiting a rapper’s performance in the Lanterna Azzurra (Blue Lantern) disco in Corinaldo, a small town in the Marche region of east-central Italy, the Carabiniere paramilitary police commander of Ancona province, Col. Cristian Carrozza, told reporters.

He also declined to confirm Italian media reports that a 16-year-old boy had been identified as the sprayer and would be questioned by juvenile court officials.

Five teens, all juveniles, and a woman who had accompanied her 11-year-old daughter to the concert, died in the crush of fleeing concertgoers who toppled over a railing atop a cement ramp outside an exit. The railing gave way, sending young people tumbling over it and landing atop of each other in the area below the ramp, about 1.5 meters (feet) below.

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On Saturday, prosecutors and Italy’s premier and interior minister told reporters that nearly 1,400 tickets had been sold, while the disco could safely hold only 870 people, with the capacity of the room of the concert itself set at about 460.

On Sunday, Carrozza said a count of ticket stubs indicated that about 600 tickets were used for entry. It was unclear if others might have gotten in without having tickets checked by disco personnel.

One of the DJs, Marco Cecchini, told reporters he was sure that more than just one room of the disco was open, in addition to the one with the 460-person capacity.

“I’ve done 40-50 evenings in that place, and, sincerely, there weren’t so many people. I’d estimate maybe 800-900 people, but all the rooms were open,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Cecchini, who is the son of one of the disco’s managers, as saying.

Several parents whose children had gone to the concert on Saturday brought police cellphones to show videos of the disco’s premises in case the visuals could help in the investigation, ANSA said.

Many parents and patrons have said the disco was jam-packed.

Carrozza said that on Saturday police had taken accounts from more than 80 people, and many more concertgoers were being questioned on Sunday.

Seven of the more than 50 people injured in the stampede remained in critical condition Sunday while the remaining patients were either already discharged or about to be discharged after their condition improved, doctors said.

After Interior Minister Matteo Salvini insisted that safety codes for public places be rigorously respected, police overnight shut down two discos in the south, near the port city of Salerno, for apparent overcrowding.

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Frances D’Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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