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A Dark Weekend
August 29, 2010 - Jim Price
The Sunday (Aug. 29) edition of the Altoona Mirror spotlighted the five-year anniversary of a violent and tragic night. It was on Saturday night, August 28, 2005, that illegal immigrant Miguel Padilla shot and killed Al Mignogna, Fred Rickabaugh Sr. and Stephen Heiss outside Altoona’s UVA Club. Several articles in Sunday’s paper document that tragic night, and the aftermath for the surviving families and friends who are still coming to grips with the murders five years later.
I wasn’t at the UVA Club that fateful night. But I almost was. And as is sometimes the case with major catastrophic events, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I learned about the shootings.
During that late August weekend, I was emceeing a benefit concert I’ve been involved with for many years, the “End Of Summer Jam” for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. That year’s “End Of Summer Jam” was a two-day event, Saturday and Sunday, and took place at the Cresson Sportsmen’s Club.
The weather that weekend was gorgeous, with pleasant late-summer sunshine and daytime high temperatures in the mid-70’s. The Saturday end of the concert had gone fairly well, and popular local rockers Half Tempted closed out that night on the stage. Afterward, Half Tempted’s bassist at the time, Jim Ricotta; another friend, Jesse; and I pondered what we wanted to do next. Jesse suggested that we head to the UVA Club to see the entertainment and what was going on there. But Jim was feeling a little tired, and I didn’t want to be out too late this night because I had to return to Cresson the next day to emcee the rest of the concert. So we all decided to catch a late breakfast at the Altoona Eat-n-Park instead, totally unaware of the violent acts that were unfolding across town as we ate.
I returned to the Cresson Sportsmen’s Club just shy of noon on Sunday, and shortly after I arrived, two friends – Steve and his daughter, Kim – came up to the sound tent where I was setting up my video recording gear. Steve mentioned that he had heard on the scanner overnight that there was some sort of shooting outside the UVA Club. While disturbing, I knew that gunfire late on a Saturday night happened occasionally in our fair city; and I hoped that nobody was hurt, and that local police nabbed the person with the gun.
About an hour later, though, we learned the full scope of what happened, as local musician Jeff Renner came to the tent and reported the news that three men had been killed, among them Al Mignogna and Fred Rickabaugh. We all sat in stunned silence.
I mentioned the shootings on the stage that afternoon, and paused for a moment of silence in honor of the deceased men. Several of the bands also publicly offered their thoughts and condolences on the stage that afternoon, including Felix & the Hurricanes.
As the rest of the afternoon and evening played out, I was taking stock of the peace and tranquility we were enjoying at the Cresson Sportsmen’s Club this day. I felt a sense of stability and security enjoying music and the company of friends in this calm outdoor setting, miles away from my hometown where senseless violence, pain and suffering were taking place this day.
When the concert ended just shy of midnight, I didn’t want to head back down the hill to Altoona. Typically, I would usually head to Pellegrine’s to finish the weekend following the close of “End Of Summer Jam.” But I knew that much of Pellegrine’s staff and patrons were also friends and patrons of the UVA Club, and I sensed that there would be a lot of sadness and despair in the house that night. I didn’t want to return to that. So instead, I again embraced the solace and relative security of sitting with lingering friends and audience members around a bonfire in the cooling mountain nighttime air. It just felt safer here this night.
A couple of months later, I emceed a benefit concert for the surviving families of the three victims. It was one of the toughest emceeing jobs I ever had to do. What can anybody possibly say in the aftermath of such an event? I was struggling with the words this night, but was able to make it through.
One of the articles in Sunday’s Mirror reported how attendance at the UVA Club has suffered in the five years after the shootings. The UVA wasn’t the only venue impacted by that fateful night. Attendance for several live music venues dropped off after the UVA shooting, particularly places like Pellegrine’s and the 4D’s Lounge, who shared patronage with the UVA Club. Although it can be argued that the current bad economy, DUI concerns and other factors have helped keep crowd numbers down at these venues, I don’t think attendance ever totally recovered from the events of August 28, 2005.
On a side note, another thing I remember about that weekend in 2005 was that the nation was following the progress of a hurricane named Katrina as it took aim on the Gulf Coast. In the days that followed, while the nation mourned the nature-wrought tragedy along the Gulf Coast, we in the Altoona area were also weathering the aftermath of a man-made tragedy. That late August weekend was truly a dark weekend.