- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

RICHMOND — Witnesses likened it to the running of the bulls, or being stuck inside a tube of cake frosting and squeezed out.

More than 1,000 people who had waited for hours outside the Richmond International Raceway to get their hands on a bargain laptop computer stampeded when officials opened the gates at 7 a.m. yesterday.

People shoved and beat one another, and a little girl’s stroller was crushed as people surged in a frenzied effort to plunk down $50 for one of the 1,000 used Apple IBooks that the Henrico County school system was selling to county residents.

Blandine Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line, said the mob scene was terrifying.

“I’ve never been in something like that before, and I never again will,” Ms. Alexander said. “No matter what the kids want, I already told them I’m not doing that again.”

She said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement; someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd; and a girl began hyperventilating and had to be taken away from the area.

But the incident that really put it over the top for Ms. Alexander involved a middle-aged woman standing in front of her who was desperate to go to the bathroom, but was just as desperate to retain her place in line. So she urinated on herself.

Police would not comment on the number or extent of injuries, though witnesses said they amounted mostly to scrapes and bruises.

“It’s rather strange that we would have such a tremendous response for the purchase of a laptop computer — and laptop computers that probably have less-than-desirable attributes,” said Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County, who noted that the four-year-old IBooks were being replaced by new Dell models.

“But I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement of the event — it almost has an entertainment value.”

Mr. Proto would not say what the suburban Richmond county could have done to prevent the mob scene.

“We’re always going to second-guess ourselves, and I’m sure once this is all over, we’re going to sit down and critique it and see what we might have done differently,” he said. “Given all the facts, I think we did a reasonable job.”

One foot bare, Latoya Jones limped around on the sizzling blacktop of the complex’s parking lot, asking passers-by: “Have you seen my shoe?”

The 19-year-old lost the white, crystal-studded flip-flop in the initial rush as the gates opened. People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing one another.

“I could not move, I could not breathe,” she said. “I think this is total, total chaos.”

Jesse Sandler said he wasn’t a bit nervous when the stampede began. He was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.

“I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam,’” the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new IBook. “They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just.”

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