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Thread: 21 Die in Chicago Nightclub Stampede

  1. #1
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    Nov 2002

    21 Die in Chicago Nightclub Stampede

    21 Die in Chicago Nightclub Stampede

    By BRANDON LOOMIS, Associated Press Writer

    CHICAGO - Hundreds of screaming guests rushed the exits of a crowded nightclub Monday after someone used pepper spray or Mace, and at least 21 people were crushed to death or smothered in the panic, officials said.

    Firefighters were forced to use sledgehammers and pry bars to open locked or blocked doors that prevented some club-goers from fleeing, Fire Commissioner James Joyce said at a late morning briefing.

    "There are people trying to get out that could not get out," Joyce said. "Locked and blocked doors are a contributing factor. We can't explain how management or ownership would allow that."

    The locked doors are a fire code violation, Joyce said.

    Twenty-one people were confirmed dead in the tragedy at the Epitome Night Club, Chicago Police spokesman Pat Camden said. Hospitals reported treating at least 50 for everything from critical injuries to asthma-like symptoms.

    "Everybody smashed; people crying, couldn't breathe," said club-goer Reggie Clark. "Two ladies next to me died. A guy under me passed out."

    Some witnesses reported that panic broke out after the guards used pepper spray or Mace to break up a fight, but authorities did not immediately confirm that. Police Commissioner Terry Hillard said investigators are trying to sort out conflicting stories about the source of the spray, and were retrieving a video from inside the club.

    "We will get to the bottom of this," Hillard said. "Right now our investigation is at full tilt."

    There were more than 1,500 people in the two-story nightclub when the spray was released sometime after 2 a.m., officials initially estimated. They could not immediately say what the legal capacity of the building was.

    "It appears a disturbance from within led to a mass chaos where people headed for the door. Most of the fatalities appear to have been crushed or had injuries due to suffocation," said police Officer Ozzie Rodriguez.

    The club is located in the Near South Side, a commercial district near the McCormick Place convention center.

    Cory Thomas, 33, went to the club to pick up two friends. As he waited outside, he saw people inside the club start to back up against the glass front door.

    "You could see a mound of people. People were stacking on top of each other, screaming and gagging, I guess from the pepper spray. The door got blocked because there were too many people stacked up against it," he said.

    "I saw them taking out a pregnant woman," Thomas said. "She was in bad shape. I saw at least 10 lifeless bodies."

    Kristy Mitchell, 22, was one of the people trampled on the stairway.

    "People were stomping my legs," she said. "When they pulled me up, I was dizzy and I couldn't breathe."

    Amishoov Blackwell, 30, was checking his coat on the second floor when people started rushing past him. The flow of the crowd pushed him back down the stairs and he fell on top of several people, he said. He was trapped on top of the others until firefighters rescued him about 30 minutes later.

    "It wasn't nothing but two girls fighting," Blackwell said. "Why'd they have to spray Mace?"

    Hours after the disaster, Chiquita Rhodes was still searching for her 19-year-old sister, Charita.

    "I've been to every emergency room," Rhodes said. She was told by officials to return to the medical examiner's office around noon, when the bodies would be available for relatives to identify.

    She said Charita was holding onto a friend, but they were separated in the crush. A firefighter found Charita's cell phone, she added.

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson (news - web sites) arrived at the scene early Monday and urged community members to help each other.

    "We are asking area ministers to go to hospitals," Jackson said. "My people are overwhelmed with the suddenness of this. At a time like this, you have to lean on your faith."

    The president of a Chicago entertainment agency that has booked acts at the club said access to the building was unsafe for large crowds.

    "The doorway was obviously inadequate for an emergency," said Ron Onesti of Onesti Entertainment Co. "When the place is filled to capacity, the doorway is very thin."

    Photographs on Onesti's Web site depict packed crowds at the nightclub. Onesti maintained that his agency had nothing to do with managing the club and hadn't had any dealings involving it in about a year.

    The melee marks one of the nation's deadliest stampedes.

    In December 1991, nine young people were crushed to death in a gymnasium stairwell while awaiting a celebrity basketball game in New York.

    In December 1979, 11 people were killed in Cincinnati in a crush to get into a concert by The Who.

  2. #2
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    Nov 2002

    Club Where 21 Died Was Ordered Closed

    Club Where 21 Died Was Ordered Closed
    Mon Feb 17, 9:27 PM ET Add U.S. National - AP to My Yahoo!

    By MIKE ROBINSON, Associated Press Writer

    CHICAGO - The nightclub where 21 people died in a pre-dawn stampede had been ordered to shut down last summer because of safety violations, including failure to provide enough exits, city officials said Monday.

    "The owner knows damn well that he is not to open that second floor facility," Fire Commissioner James Joyce said. City officials said criminal sanctions would be sought as early as Tuesday against those who operated the second-floor nightclub in defiance of the order.

    Joyce identified the building owner as Lesly Motors Inc. He said Le Mirage Inc. held the liquor license.

    In April 2002, a city complaint against the nightclub listed 11 building-code violations, ranging from failure to submit architectural plans and engineering reports to failure to provide enough exits. In a July 19 order, Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Lynch barred Le Mirage Inc. from occupying the second floor.

    The owners subsequently challenged the order. But in September, Lynch refused their motion and emphasized his original order telling the club to shut down.

    City officials released copies of some of the court documents at an afternoon news conference Monday.

    "It had a number of building and fire code violations," Joyce said. "There was shoddy rehab work that had been done, some of the stairwells were not in compliance, exit lights were not up to our standards."

    Early Monday morning
    Last edited by shunter; 02-18-2003 at 11:31 AM.

  3. #3
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    911 Tapes Tell of E2 Chaos in Chicago Nightclub Stampede

    911 tapes tell tale of E2 chaos
    March 11, 2003


    Sources said Monday the 911 center's inability to reach the first firefighters at E2 resulted in an eight-minute delay before an emergency medical plan could be activated to handle the stampede that killed 21 people.

    The first call of trouble at the club came at 2:23 a.m. Feb. 17 with a report of a person down. An ambulance was on the scene at 2:27 a.m., with more help arriving about 90 seconds later, the source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

    At 2:35 a.m., the 911 dispatch center, flooded with calls from panicked patrons inside the South Loop club, tried to communicate with firefighters at the scene.

    But the source said dispatchers were unable to reach the firefighters, who were working on the first floor to assist the person reported down, a pregnant woman. Had they been able to reach them, the dispatchers could have passed along the information coming from the second floor, where people were unable to breathe and feared death.

    The 911 tapes released Monday show that by 2:41 a.m., a dispatcher called the club to find out what was wrong and was told that bodies were stacking up in the stairwell. About the same time, firefighters at the scene realized the scope of the problem and by 2:43 a.m., they called the Emergency Medical Services, or crisis, plan, said Larry Langford, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Langford said the 911 dispatcher was just about to activate the EMS plan, which triggers a response of more personnel and equipment to critical situations.

    By this time, as many as 30 calls to the 911 center had been logged. Eventually, between 15 and 17 ambulances were sent. Chicago police officers, who responded along with the fire department to the first call, also had been trying to get additional help from the 911 center.

    The delay and apparent lack of communication shocked attorneys representing E2's owners, who have been the focus of an investigation. The city has said the club owners, Le Mirage Inc., were operating in violation of a court order.

    "If somebody is trying to reach firemen to tell them that, a few feet away, there's this tragedy going on and they can't be reached, that is incredibly significant," said Thomas Royce, an attorney for Le Mirage Inc. "That tells me there's some breakdown between the EMS system and the firemen on the scene."

    Still, another source questioned why E2 managers didn't call 911 when they saw the jam on the stairway and direct aid there.

    The 911 tapes released Monday reveal just how chaotic the situation was. Callers report several events to 911 dispatchers, including a knife fight, riots and shots being fired inside the club. One woman tells a dispatcher she doesn't want to die.

    Dispatchers' inability to reach the first response team will likely factor into an investigation into what went wrong and whether procedures need to change, a source said.

    "If fire had been aware earlier that people were trapped in the staircase they would have moved faster to get to the staircase,'' a source said. "Would that have saved any lives? Well, it sure wouldn't have hurt. The cops knew what was going on. The callers knew. But I don't think the information was getting to the fire people inside.''

    Fire Department spokeswoman Molly Sullivan declined comment when asked why firefighters and paramedics first on the scene did not respond to at least two radio calls. A source familiar with the Fire Department's response insisted the communication gap made no difference in who lived and died.

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