CHICAGO (Feb. 17) - A disturbance at a crowded night club early Monday set off a mad scramble for the exits that left 21 people dead and many more injured, authorities said. There were more than 1,500 people in the two-story Epitome Night Club when someone released pepper spray or Mace into the air some time after 2 a.m., Fire Commander Will Knight said.
``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.
``Everybody smashed; people crying, couldn't breath,'' said Reggie Clark, who was at the club. ``Two ladies next to me died. A guy under me passed out.''
At least 21 people are confirmed dead, Chicago Police spokesman Pat Camden said Monday.
Several witnesses described the crush as people tried to rush out through the club's narrow exit.
Cory Thomas, 33, of Chicago went to the club about 3 a.m. 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.''
``I saw them taking out a pregnant woman,'' Thomas said. ``She was in bad shape. I saw at least 10 lifeless bodies.''
Thomas said that when the fire department arrived, they cut a chain on a side door so that people could get out. ``The front door was the only way out of there,'' he said.
Kristy Mitchell, 22, of Gary, Ind., 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,''
Fire Department officials said the total number of injuries was unclear because many of those with minor injuries were being taken to hospitals by family and friends.
Knight said 19 people were in cardiac arrest when emergency workers arrived at the club. Many of them were revived, but four were declared dead at the scene, he said.
02/17/03 08:31 EST
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