2003 E2 nightclub stampede
The E2 nightclub stampede occurred on February 17, 2003, at the E2 nightclub above the Epitome restaurant at 2347 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, in which 21 people died and more than 50 were injured when panic ensued from the use of pepper spray by a security guard to break up a fight. The club's owners were 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 and others, believing the club to have been hit with poison gas in a terrorist attack, rushed towards the exit. The exit was the steep front stairwell leading to the main entrance on the ground floor, the narrow doors of which opened inward - 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.
People climbing the stairs were knocked down and pinned by the crowd. As security attempted to pull them to safety, the heap of bodies reached six feet in height as more than 1,500 people fled the perceived threat. While trying to free trapped patrons, E2 guard Ira Navarro heard other clubbers atop the stairs laughing at the fracas, unaware of the fatalities.
A number of controversies arose from the case. A city-issued court order showed that the owners, Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, were guilty of eleven building code violations, including overcrowding and faulty exit lighting. Police were called to the location 80 times during the two years prior to the stampede.
Kyles and Hollins had been ordered to shut down the second-floor club in 2002. Their attorneys claimed that the court order related only to a raised VIP section of the club, not the entire second floor of the building. City inspectors then believed the facility's only business thereafter came from the ground floor Epitome Chicago restaurant, which the club attorneys said was false as police officers (both on and off duty) regularly handled the persistently large crowds, and club advertisements were common on radio and the Internet.
During the January 2007 trial the prosecution claimed the club's security staff were not properly trained. Security guard Samuel Bone testified to using pepper spray to disband a group of fifteen brawling clubbers. He said he was indeed trained in the proper use of pepper spray by the nonprofit Illinois Police Reserve Patrol.
On November 25, 2009, Kyles and Hollins were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges, but were found guilty of indirect criminal contempt for violating the court order to close the entire second floor of the club and were sentenced to two years in prison. E2 and Epitome both permanently closed after the incident.
On November 16, 2011, the ruling was overturned when a judge ruled that the court order to close the second floor was ambiguous. On April 4, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned the 2011 ruling and upheld the 2009 conviction of criminal contempt, calling the court order "certain, clear and concise."
- 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 Archived 2011-12-20 at the Wayback Machine – Time, 2/24/03
- Chicago overwhelmed by nightclub deaths – CNN.com, 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 Archived 2009-11-27 at the Wayback Machine – WBBM, 11/25/09
- E2 Stampede Remembered Six Years Later – NBC Chicago, 2/2009
- "E2 owners say they were scapegoats for 'botched rescue effort'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
- "Supreme Court: E2 conviction stands: Owners of club where 21 died again facing jail". Chicago Tribune. April 5, 2013.