E2 owners blame botched rescue effort for 2003 stampede

November 17, 2011 2:49:40 PM PST
One day after their convictions were overturned, the owners of E2 said they were scapegoats after a stampede at their nightclub killed 21 in 2003.

Calvin Hollins and Dwain Kyles were convicted in connection with the nightclub tragedy that killed 21 people. Both faced two years in prison for violating a judge's order. On Wednesday, those guilty verdicts and their sentences were overturned by an appeals court. On Thursday, the men called for a thorough investigation on what happened that night in February 2003, accusing the city of using them as scapegoats for a botches rescue effort.

"If you are the one at fault, the easy thing to do point the finger at someone else," Victor Henderson, attorney for Hollins and Kyles, said.

"I had three children working there that night. I would never have put them in harm's way," Hollins said.

In a malicious prosecution suit filed against the city, Kyles and Hollins said videotapes show police officers standing outside the club for several minutes without doing anything.

"For 45 minutes they waited for 21 people to die," Ed Grasse, attorney for Kyles and Hollins, said.

"The city is more than 75 percent responsible. They're more like 99 percent responsible for what happen because, first of all, the building code violations was not enforced. Second, the first-responders responded horribly," Howard Ray, whose son, DaShand, was killed in the stampede on February 17, 2003.

DaShand, 24, was crushed to death along with 20 others as they rushed to leave the South Side club after a security guard used pepper spray in the crowded club. While Ray blames the city -- mostly -- he also feels Hollins and Kyles played a part.

"Anytime you run a business you are supposed to make sure that patrons are safe. If you don't, [that's] negligent," Ray said. "They were responsible for making sure that the place were not over-occupied. That's number one. Number two, they were responsible for making sure that there was proper exit in case of situation like this."

The city maintains the club never should have been open on that night because Hollins and Kyles violated a housing judge's order to close the second floor. The Illinois appellate court said the order wasn't as clear as prosecutors had claimed. Legal experts say that decision may make it tough for the city to take the case further, to the Illinois Supreme Court.

"I think their decision is pretty clear, whether it is wise-- the city will have to make that decision," Richard Kling, Kent College of Law, said.

The city has not decided its next legal move, although appealing to the Illinois Supreme Court is the only option.

Dozens of civil suits have also been filed in the E2 case. Legal experts say the appellate court's ruling should not have any legal impact on those cases.