Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death
The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.
Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”
By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.
Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.
Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.
Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”
But even with videos from the store’s surveillance cameras, which were being examined, and the accounts of witnesses, Lieutenant Fleming and other officials acknowledged that it would be difficult to identify those responsible, let alone to prove culpability.
Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”
Wal-Mart security officials and the police cleared the store, swept up the shattered glass and locked the doors until 1 p.m., when it reopened to a steady stream of calmer shoppers who passed through the missing doors and battered door jambs, apparently unaware that anything had happened.
Ugly shopping scenes, a few involving injuries, have become commonplace during the bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when America’s anxious retailers say they finally turn a profit for the year. The nation’s largest retail group, the National Retail Federation, said it had never heard of a worker being killed on Black Friday.
“We are not aware of any other circumstances where a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving,” said Ellen Davis, speaking for the group.
Wal-Mart declined to provide details of the stampede or of its security arrangements, which vary from store to store. It was thus unclear how many security workers it had at Valley Stream for the store’s opening on Friday. The Green Acres Mall provides its own security to supplement the staffs of some large stores, but it did not appear that Wal-Mart was one of them.
A Wal-Mart spokesman, Dan Folgleman, called it a “tragic situation,” and said the victim had been hired from a temporary staffing agency and assigned to maintenance work. Wal-Mart, in a statement issued at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said: “The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this tragic time.”
Wal-Mart has vigorously and successfully resisted unionization of its employees. New York State’s largest grocery union, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the death of Mr. Damour “avoidable” and demanded investigations by local prosecutors and federal and state agencies.
“Where were the safety barriers?” said Bruce Both, the union president. “Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner? This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart.”
While other Wal-Mart stores dot the suburbs around the city, the outlet at Valley Stream, less than two miles from New York City’s southeastern border, draws customers from Queens, Brooklyn and the densely populated suburbs of Nassau County. And it was not the only store in the Green Acres Mall that attracted large crowds. Best Buy, Circuit City and BJ’s were also mobbed.
Witnesses said the crowd outside Wal-Mart began gathering at 9 p.m. on Thursday. The night was not bitterly cold, and the early mood was relaxed. By the early morning hours, the throngs had grown, and officers of the Fifth Precinct of the Nassau County Police Department, who patrol Valley Stream, were out in force, checking on crowds at the mall, which stretches for a half-mile and has scores of stores.
Mr. Damour, who lived in Queens, went into the store sometime during the night to stock shelves and perform maintenance work. It was not clear on Friday night when or through what agency he had been hired.
By 3:30 a.m., the crowd outside Wal-Mart had swelled, drawn by sales promoting a Samsung 50-inch plasma high-definition television for $798, a Bissel Compact upright vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs like “The Incredible Hulk” for $9. The store usually opens at 9 a.m., but in anticipation of a big day, the opening was set for 5 a.m., two hours before sunrise.About the same time that Mr. Damour was killed, a shopper at a Wal-Mart in Farmingdale, 15 miles east of Valley Stream, said she was trampled by a crowd of overeager customers, the Suffolk County police reported. The woman sustained a cut on her leg, but finished her shopping before filing the police report, an officer said.