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Inquest details concert death

| Friday, Aug. 24, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

Rosalind Hopkins said she had no reason to suspect a group of teen-agers lied when they said their 15-year-old friend merely drank a little too much at a concert.

At an open inquest Thursday at the Allegheny County Coroner's Office, Downtown, Hopkins testified an incapacitated Brandy French lay in an upstairs bedroom of the Hopkins' Bell Acres home for nearly two hours before medical assistance was sought.

After Hopkins' testimony, attorney John Doherty, acting as special hearing officer, recessed the inquest until 10 a.m. today.

The director of forensic laboratories in the coroner's office and five teen-age witnesses, including Hopkins' youngest son, Lewis, also testified in the proceedings, which lasted more than four hours.

French, of Economy Borough, Beaver County, died May 19 at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side from side effects of the drug Ecstasy.

Ecstasy is an amphetamine derivative popular on college and high school campuses because it can produce feelings of euphoria and long-lasting energy.

French, a sophomore at Ambridge High School, had attended 'X-Fest,' a daylong alternative rock festival at the Post-Gazette Pavilion near Burgettstown, Washington County, on May 18.

Lewis Hopkins testified he and a friend met French's group and another group at the concert, and left with people from each group for his house around 9 p.m. He said they went to his house after French's friends said she was drunk and could not return to her home in that condition.

Witnesses said French needed assistance to reach the car, slept the entire return trip and had thrown up between three and 20 times in the previous five hours. She also had trouble breathing after she reached Hopkins' home, witnesses testified.

As many as 30 people crowded into the courtroom to hear how the final three days of French's life evolved from a sleepover and a concert into a drug- induced malaise.

Most in attendance wore handcrafted pendants with French's picture framed in a lavender heart, 'Brandy' painted on top and 'Justice' down the right side.

Robert Sontag, 21, testified that French planned to spend the night before the concert with him and his girlfriend at her parents' home in Fair Oaks.

He said they went with another teen-age female friend that evening to a Dairy Queen in Rochester, Beaver County, where the friend purchased three double-potency pills of Ecstasy.

The three girls planned and - according to witnesses - said they took the drug at the performance the next day. Witnesses said French took only half of a pill twice over about a three-hour period because it was her first time.

After the hearing, Downtown attorney John Gismondi, representing the French family, said of Rosalind Hopkins: 'She's got someone at her house for a few hours who is not coherent and not responding and she doesn't call for help. It seems like that's the likely thing to do.'

Gismondi said the family will wait until the inquest's completion before determining if they will pursue a civil action against Hopkins, the pavilion or any of Brandy French's companions that evening.

Tim Puko can be reached at (412) 320-7975.

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