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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 22:28 GMT
Chicago club owners face charges
Chicago ministers pray outside the nightclub
Dozens of families have been affected
The Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, has confirmed that charges will be filed against the owners of a nightclub where 21 people were crushed to death and 58 injured this week.

City lawyers are now expected to file criminal contempt charges over the tragedy at the E2 club where a release of pepper spray caused a stampede.

It was like the Titanic in a nightclub
Kristy Mitchell
The mayor said that the owners of the club had defied a court order banning use of the dance space after a string of violations.

But a lawyer for E2 said the order had not covered the dance hall and criminal charges were "not in any way appropriate".

Mayor Daley said the court order had been "very clear".

"The second floor of the building was not to be occupied, yet the club continued to occupy the second floor," he told reporters.

He promised to use "every tool, every resource at [the city's] disposal to make sure justice is done".

Correspondents say the tragedy is the worst to hit the city in 20 years.

Police inquiry

Earlier reports said a judge ordered the owners to close the club last July because of numerous safety violations, including failure to provide enough exits.

"The owner knows damn well that he was not to open that second-floor facility," Fire Commissioner James Joyce commented shortly after the tragedy.

Jamarr Hayes, 22, was injured in the crush
Mr Joyce estimated that about 500 people had been inside the club.

"There are people who were trying to get out and could not get out," he said.

"We can't explain how management or ownership would allow that."

State prosecutors are awaiting the outcome of the police inquiry to decide whether the building's owners, Lesly Motors Inc, and the E2 club's operator, Le Mirage, should face criminal charges.

The lawyer for E2 said that there had been a deal with officials in October to allow the club to remain in operation until a new court hearing in March.

"If this club was not supposed to be open, they would not have been [advertising] on the radio and bringing in high-profile entertainment," Andre Grant said.

"Criminal charges are not in any way warranted... This was a tragic, tragic accident."

'Like the Titanic'

Panic broke out when the Mace spray was released on the upper floor of the two-storey Epitome complex on the city's South Side.

The E2 club, located above a restaurant, had been packed in the early hours of Monday - the Presidents' Day public holiday in America.

Nita Anthony, 24, was among the dead
It should have been a holiday night out
Many of the young, mostly black clubbers were trampled as people rushed for the exits.

Dozens of distraught families went to the Cook County morgue to identify the dead, many of whom had horrific injuries.

"These bodies were smashed faces, torsos, legs. It's like a steamroller rolled over them," the Reverend Eric Sloss, who helped families identify their loved ones, told the Chicago Tribune.

Reports say that the spray was used by club security officers to break up a fight among a group of young women.

Clubbers rushed down a staircase to try to get out when the spray was released and as some fell, others simply poured on top of them.

"It was like the Titanic in a nightclub," said 22-year-old survivor Kristy Mitchell.

"No one could help us. I told the other ladies, 'Stop screaming, you're wasting our air'."

The incident has proved one of the worst of its kind in the United States:

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

  • In December 1991, nine people were crushed to death in a gymnasium stairwell while awaiting a celebrity basketball game at New York's City College.

Were you an eyewitness to the tragedy?

Have your say

I wasn't at E2 the night of this tragedy, but I have been there before and even then it was so crowded that I decided to leave and go elsewhere. My friend was at E2 on Sunday, and luckily I spoke to her this afternoon - she is doing alright - very shaken up, but that is expected. It's unfortunate though that when she left home Sunday evening with two of her friends to have a good time, and take a break from work that she would be arriving to E2 with two people who she will never see again! My deepest sympathy goes to all those who lost someone.
Debra, USA

I was by the wall with my girl and noticed a crowd of people coming towards us. My girl hit the ground and I tried to get to her but it was too late. Although I was trampled on I got out in time but now I feel bad that my baby had been left behind.
Devin Smith, USA

People couldn't breathe
Dejuan, USA
I was in the club. Everything was fine until a fight occurred and security sprayed pepper spray. People couldn't breathe, so they started toward the stairwell. I can estimate about 200 or more rushed to the stairwell. The stairwell is like a cliff - if one falls, then all are going to fall. Of the 21 who are dead, I knew 5 people that died.
Dejuan, USA

I would first like to send my condolences to all the families who lost a loved one in this tragic event. I would also say that I have been to the club on three different occasions. I know that the stairs are a danger - only one way in and one way out. The last time I went which was the Sunday before Labor Day last year and a girl got murdered. The security was so disorganized people in the lines were pushing and jamming the doors to get in. That was the last time I went to E2 and I will never be back again and I hope their doors never open again.
Renee Williams, United States

I was there, although downstairs, people made comments like, nerve gas, please get out the way, anthrax, please get out the way, terrorist please get out the way and we just jumped on each other so fast you can't believe it
James, USA

I was at the club, the people were scared because someone said it was a terrorist gas attack.
Brad James, USA

Not an eyewitness but I've been there. The club is actually called E2 - it's above a restaurant called Epitome.
Michael, USA

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Witnesses recall club crush panic
17 Feb 03 |  Americas

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