Lawsuit Sheds Light on Security Incident Which Lead to Deaths at Nightclub

As a pile of bodies at the bottom of the E2 nightclub's stairs grew higher than six feet, unwitting patrons at the top laughed and kept pushing, unaware people below were being crushed to death as they did so.

Former E2 security guard Ira Navarro rushed to the entrance when the stampede began and tried to free people buried in the pile, he testified Thursday. He grabbed the arm of one man and tried to pull him out.

"I heard a pop, like a dislocation of his shoulder," Navarro said. "I didn't want to grab his other arm and break his other arm."

Realizing he would not be able to pull anyone free, Navarro re-entered the club and went to the second floor, where a fight had caused the panic that led people to rush for the exit. Mace and mist from a dance-floor "smog machine" filled the air. At the top of the stairs, patrons were frantic to get out.

"It was chaos," Navarro said.

FORMED 'HUMAN TRAIN'

The 26-year-old Navarro testified on the third day of the trial of three men who ran the E2, where 21 patrons were crushed to death on Feb. 17, 2003. Club managers Calvin Hollins Jr. and Calvin Hollins III, along with promoter Marcos Flores, are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Shanethia Allen, 32, testified she saw the fight break out and the dance floor fill with screaming, rushing patrons. By linking hands and going single-file, she and family members formed a "human train" to get to the front stairs, she said. Something in the air -- Mace, according to other witnesses -- made her choke. At the top of the stairs, the mass of bodies pushed her sideways and flipped her backward down the stairs, she said.

A man near her braced his arms against the walls to protect her from being crushed, Allen said.

"If he didn't hold onto the wall, he knew the crowd would trample me," she said. "I saw my death."

Navarro testified he was one of seven security guards working at E2 that night. Hired by Hollins Jr. six months earlier and reporting to Hollins III and others, Navarro said no one asked about his or other bouncers' qualifications, though the E2 had "two, three fights a night" and he wore a bulletproof vest while working.

'CIRCLE OF PEOPLE FIGHTING'

Around 2 a.m. Feb. 17 near the D.J. booth, "there was a huge fight -- a lot of guys punching, a lot of guys kicking," Navarro said.

Women threw glasses and kicks and swung purses, he said.

After leading one fighter out the back, Navarro returned to find "the fight had escalated more." A woman had fired pepper spray during the melee.

"It was like an endless circle of people fighting," he said.

Prosecutors allege the proprietors allowed 1,152 people into the South Michigan Avenue club that night, though it safely held only 240 people.



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