November 29, 2008

Wal-Mart Worker Dies in 'Black Friday' Stampede

related: The day in pictures

And still they shopped.

Hundreds of bargain-hungry shoppers stepped on a fallen Wal-Mart worker, who died Friday morning, after the crowd knocked down the store's front doors -- and the worker -- during the "utter chaos" of a Black Friday shopping melee, Nassau County police said.

"A throng of shoppers . . . physically broke down the doors" around 5 a.m. Friday and knocked the 34-year-old part-time worker to the ground as the crowd pushed its way into the store at the Green Acres Mall, Nassau police said.

Police identified the worker as Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens.

"This crowd was out of control," said Nassau Police Det. Lt. Michael Fleming, whose squad is investigating the death. He characterized the melee as "utter chaos."

Fleming said an estimated 2,000 people had gathered in line around 5 a.m. as the store was preparing to open.

Asked at a news conference whether the store had enough security given the crowds that Black Friday shopping typically attracts, Fleming said no. Four shoppers had minor injuries, police said.

People in the rear of the line began pushing, cascading the people in the front into the doors, which were knocked off their hinges, Fleming said.

Hundreds of shoppers who then streamed in literally stepped on the worker who later died, Fleming said.

Fleming said the worker was a temporary worker sent by an employment agency. Fleming did not rule out criminal charges in the case, though he said it would be nearly impossible to identify individual shoppers.

But, he said, authorities were reviewing surveillance video.

Another police officer told Newsday the prelude to the death at the Green Acres Mall was "a mob scene."

Shoppers who surged past the fallen Wal-Mart worker into the store were asked to leave by other store workers, some of them crying and visibly upset, said one shopper, Kimberly Cribbs, of Far Rockaway.

Though rumors circulated among the shoppers that someone had been badly injured, people ignored the Wal-Mart workers' requests that they stop shopping, move to the front of the store and exit, Cribbs said.

"They kept shopping. It's not right," Cribbs said. "They're savages."

Cribbs said she entered the store after the injured worker was already being attended to. As people waited, then pushed into the store, she said, "It was chaos."

Another shopper said people were screaming and shoving in line before the opening.

The police got an emergency call at 5:03 a.m. reporting that the worker had been injured, and he was taken to Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream where he was pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m.

As of Friday morning, the cause of death was described as "undetermined," police said. An exact cause of death will be determined by the county medical examiner's office, police said.

Shopper Camla Brown described a disorganized mob that was thirsting to get into the store before the trampling.

"There was no organization," said Brown, 47, a restaurant manager from Valley Stream.

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital for observation. Three other shoppers suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospitals for treatment, and they were expected to be released.

Dan Fogelman, spokesman at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said Friday, "The safety and security of our customers and associates are our top priority."

Fogelman called the death "a tragic situation" and said the company was cooperating fully with the Nassau County police investigation. He declined to comment on whether the company would review its practice of heavily-discounted holiday sales events, or whether the company was reviewing its crowd control measures at such sales.

Fogelman said company management were saddened by the death of the worker and the injuries to customers, adding, "Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time."

In a pace considerably more subdued, shoppers by the hundreds streamed into the Wal-Mart the moment it reopened in the early afternoon. Nassau County police officers standing near the entrance asked the shoppers to take it easy as they walked in.

The store's front doors, the ones broken down by the earlier mob, have not been replaced.

A handwritten sign, apparently from early Friday morning, said, "Blitz line starts here" with an arrow telling shoppers where to line up.


1 comment:

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