- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

CHICAGO, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Lawyers fingered the city of Chicago in lawsuits filed Monday in the aftermath of last week's E2 nightclub stampede as families buried another half-dozen victims.

Elsewhere both the Chicago disaster, which killed 21 people, and The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., which killed 97 and critically burned scores more, prompted inspectors to crack down on violations and revelers to keep a wary eye on exits as they partied during the weekend.

The National Fire Protection Association and other organizations publish safety standards for public venues but they are not universally adhered to across the nation or uniformly enforced.

Attorney Robert Phillips amended the lawsuit he filed last week to include the city among the defendants in the E2 stampede.

"If the city had executed and enforced their own order to shut this facility down in the first place, which they went to court in an effort to do, there would have been no business conducted that night in this club and there would have been no injuries or fatalities," Phillips told reporters.

The city in July won a Housing Court decision ordering the second floor of the building housing the nightclub shut down because of cracks in the ceiling truss. The first floor of the building housed the Epitome restaurant.

The city maintains it did all it could to ensure the safety of patrons and it was up to the club operators to honor the court order. Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said last week building inspectors had visited the building during the day but not at night when the club was operating.

Phillips said the city dropped the ball by not making sure the order was enforced.

"Just to blame someone else — they will have to live with the knowledge that they knew it was so hazardous, it needed to be shut down," he said.

The deaths, however, were not the result of the building code violations but panic that ensued after a security guard used pepper spray on the dance floor to break up a fight. Patrons bolted for the main exit gasping for fresh air. Two other exits were unlit and at least one was blocked.

Funerals were held for six victims on Monday. At noon Sunday, churches across the city rang their bells 21 times in memory of the victims. Mayor Richard M. Daley asked Chicagoans to take a moment to pray for the victims and their families.

Over the weekend, some clubs started making safety announcements to make sure patrons knew where to find the exits. In suburban DuPage County, officials said they would review safety conditions at a club that caters to 16- to 22-year-olds.

The tragedy prompted the Chicago Fire Department to visit 17 clubs Friday and Saturday and close the second floor of a Near West Side Euro-style dance club, Rive Gauche, early Sunday because of a number of what fire officials called "safety hazards."

Chief Kevin MacGregor said the club was overcrowded, had no liquor license and had doors that opened "the wrong way."

Fire officials in Dallas; Raleigh and Durham, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami Beach, Fla., and elsewhere made similar inspections during the weekend. One Miami Beach club was shuttered because it had nearly twice the number of patrons allowed.

Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street announced that the city's 200 nightclubs will be inspected within the next two months to make sure they are in full compliance with local safety laws.

In Rhode Island, questions remain over whether the heavy metal group Great White had permission to use pyrotechnics during its show Thursday night.

Crowd-control consultant Paul Wertheimer, who was involved in the investigation of the deaths of 11 people crushed at a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati, said no fire marshal would ever have approved such special effects in a wooden building.

In Las Vegas, where pyrotechnics are common in nightclub shows, Fire Chief Jeff Morgan said the city has very strict codes. The city became a leader in fire safety in the wake of the 1980 MGM Grand fire that killed 87 people and a second blaze a few months later at the Las Vegas Hilton, which killed nine.

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