2003 E2 nightclub stampede
The E2 nightclub stampede occurred on February 17, 2003, at the E2 nightclub located above the Epitome Chicago restaurant at 2347 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois, in which 21 people died and more than 50 were injured when panic ensued from the use of pepper spray by security guards to break up a fight. The club's owners, Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, were later convicted of criminal contempt for their persistent failure to keep the facility up to code, and sentenced to two years in prison.
The stampede was triggered by club security using pepper spray to break up a fight. Several patrons close to the commotion experienced vomiting or fainting from the spray's noxious fumes. Coupled with panic from others unaware of the source of the smell, the crowd rushed towards the exits. According to witnesses, many believed the club had been hit with poison gas in a terrorist attack, as someone had said, "I'll bet it's [Osama] bin Laden." The only known exit was the steep front stairwell leading to the main entrance on the ground floor, but its narrow doors opened inward, which was a fire code violation. Additionally, while the doors were normally kept open during business hours, they had been closed after the fight participants were ejected. Although at least one emergency exit was opened by a security guard, there were disputed reports of another chained shut.
As the evacuating crowd pushed open the doors, several people already climbing the stairs were knocked down and subsequently pinned by the ensuing crush. Security attempted to pull them to safety, but the pile rapidly reached six feet in height as a result of more than 1,500 simultaneously attempting to escape the chaos inside. Ira Navarro, a former E2 guard who had worked at trying to free trapped patrons, recalled to the Chicago Sun-Times in January 2007 that he had heard other clubbers atop the stairs laughing at the fracas, unaware of the fatalities stemming from the ground-floor pileup.
There were a number of controversies associated with the case. A city-issued court order showed that the owners, Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, were guilty of as many as eleven building code violations, including overcrowding and the club's faulty exit lighting. Police are reported to have been called to the location 80 times in the past two years alone prior to the stampede.
Though the Epitome Chicago restaurant was allowed to remain open, Kyles and Hollins were ordered by the city to shut down the second-floor club in 2002, but their attorneys claimed that there had been an agreement to close only a VIP section on the floor. City inspectors then believed that the facility's only business thereafter came from the restaurant, which the club attorneys said was false, as police officers (including off-duty) were a regular presence in handling the persistently large crowds, while club advertisements were common on radio and the Internet.
As the club was African-American-owned and attracted a predominantly black crowd, Jesse Jackson had in the past supported Kyles and Hollins when community groups had sought to close down the facility due to building code and other infractions. He publicly came to Kyles' defense after the incident, saying that Kyles was “an upstanding example of a young professional person in [the] community.” Kyles was also a supporter of Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and a regular contributor to Jackson's political campaigns.[dubious ]
During the trial in January 2007, the prosecution claimed that the club's security staff were improperly trained to handle rowdy crowds. E2 security guard Samuel Bone testified to using the pepper spray to disband a group of fifteen brawling clubbers, which had stopped the fight and led to the instigator leaving the premises. He then said that he was indeed trained in the proper use of pepper spray by the Illinois Police Reserve Patrol, a nonprofit group.
On November 25, 2009, Kyles and Hollins were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges, but were found guilty of indirect criminal contempt for violating the previous orders to close the entire second floor of the club and were sentenced to two years in prison. E2 has remained closed to the public since the incident.
On November 16, 2011, the previous rulings were overturned when a judge ruled that the orders to close down the second floor were ambiguous.
On April 4, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned the previous ruling regarding the ambiguity of the orders, upholding the 2009 conviction of the co-owners for criminal contempt. In overturning the appellate ruling, the Supreme Court called the court order "certain, clear and concise."
As of 2015, the building that housed both the club and the Epitome restaurant has remained vacant since the tragedy. The building's parking lot is currently used by a nearby auto dealer.
Rhode Island nightclub fire
On February 20, 2003, three days after the stampede tragedy, WPRI-TV in Rhode Island decided to do a local report on nightclub safety as a follow up to the Chicago incident. This planned piece covered a Jack Russell's Great White performance at The Station nightclub in the town of West Warwick. Pyrotechnics that were part of the show started a fire that spread rapidly out of control. 100 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. WPRI-TV cameraman Brian Butler captured the entire tragedy on videotape.
- Judge blocks charges against E2 owners – CNN.com, 2/19/2003
- Some laughed in E2 stampede: Patrons did not know they were shoving others to their deaths – Chicago Sun-Times, 1/19/07; reprinted on highbeam.com
- All E2 victims were crushed – Chicago Tribune, 1/26/2007
- In Chicago, Jesse on the Spot – Time, 2/24/03
- Chicago overwhelmed by nightclub deaths – CNN.com, 2/25/03
- Jesse Jackson and the Chicago dance club tragedy – wsws, org, 2/25/03
- Bouncer describes E2 crowd: Guard says he used pepper spray in fight – Chicago Tribune, 1/23/07; reprinted on highbeam.com
- E2 Owners Get 2 Years In Prison – WBBM, 11/25/09
- E2 Stampede Remembered Six Years Later – NBC Chicago, 2/2009
- "Illinois Supreme Court upholds conviction of E2 nightclub co-owners". Chicago Tribune. April 5, 2013.
- The Station Nightclub Fire (EXIT sign closeup)