Year in jail sought in nightclub disaster that left 21 dead

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

CHICAGO -- Chicago officials asked a judge Tuesday for a criminal contempt sentence of at least one year in jail for the owner of a nightclub they claimed was operating in defiance of a court order when a frenzied stampede at the nightclub left 21 dead.

"Let me assure you, the city will use every tool at its disposal to make sure that justice is done," Mayor Richard M. Daley told a news conference hours before city attorneys filed a criminal contempt petition against the nightclub operator and two companies involved.

Meanwhile, one of the attorneys for the companies which owned the nightclub and the restaurant in the same building, said the companies have agreed to close both.

Attorney Thomas Royce said city officials claimed that the second- floor nightclub, where the disaster took place, could in extreme cases collapse onto patrons in the restaurant below. Royce said he did not necessarily agree, but that the building would be closed voluntarily.

The deadly stampede began about 2 a.m. Monday morning at the E2 nightclub about a mile south of the Loop after a fight broke out and someone sprayed pepper gas into the crowd of patrons. The patrons had been dancing and partying in the second-floor club. Panic quickly spread and patrons dashed for the stairwell.

Besides 21 killed, 55 people were injured in the worst night spot tragedy to strike Chicago in decades.

City officials said the club was operating in defiance of an order last July from Circuit Judge Daniel J. Lynch to close the second floor of the building.

"The court order was very clear," Daley said Tuesday. "The second floor of the building was not to be occupied. Yet the club continued to operate on the second floor."

Hours after Daley spoke, city Corporation Counsel Mara Georges asked Lynch for a finding of contempt against two companies, Lesly Motors Inc. and Le Mirage Inc., and one individual, Dwain Johann Kyles, who is registered with the state as the president and chief officer of Le Mirage.

City officials said Lesly Motors was the owner of the building. Le Mirage was doing business there as the E2 night club on the second floor. Le Mirage also operated a restaurant, Epitome, on the first floor of the building.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Mark Limanni asked Lynch to fine all three defendants and sentence Kyles to "up to and beyond a year in the Cook County Jail."

Lynch postponed any decision, saying Kyles had yet to be served with the necessary papers and the defendants should have time to file answers to the city's claims. Kyles appeared at the city's legal office in the late afternoon and accepted a summons to appear in court. The next court date is March 7.

The order entered by Lynch last July closing the second floor of the structure cited numerous building code violations. And city officials said they had repeatedly sought to have the liquor license of E2 suspended for serving minors and because a felon was on the payroll.

Police Superintendent Terry Hillard told reporters, however, his department knew nothing about the court order and actually told beat cars and tactical units to pay special attention to the location after crowd-control help was requested by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

Hillard told a news conference that Jackson had called him and that the civil rights leader's son, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., had written him last year seeking help for E2.

Kyles is the son of the Rev. Billy Kyles of the Monumental Baptist Church of Memphis. The elder Kyles and Jackson were with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was killed in 1968

Jackson was asked in an interview Monday how well he knew the younger Kyles and said: "I have known him all his life."

Hillard said that the police department had responded to 80 complaints about trouble in the vicinity of the club since 2000. He said the Jacksons wanted him to help with security.

He said the civil rights leader told him "this was a legitimate black business and would I see what I could do to work with them. And they asked if police could be out there during the hours of 12 o'clock to a four o'clock license, and I said that we could not station a police car in front of this location."

But Hillard said the area was marked for special attention by police as a matter of normal procedure due to the crowds and past complaints.

Meanwhile, Hillard said police were seeking a private promoter, Marco Flores, whose Envy Entertainment he said had rented out the club Sunday night. He said Flores had apparently left Chicago on Monday and police wanted to find him and question him about the incident.

Georges told reporters Tuesday that the city had done all it could do to close the club through legal channels. She said that even if the city could legally have padlocked the door of the club, "they would have cut the padlock."

"These people were bent on breaking the law," she said.

A trial with the city asking Lynch to make his temporary order to close the nightclub a permanent order had been scheduled to begin March 7. Instead, Lynch said he might set a trial date on the contempt petition that day.

Attorneys filed wrongful death suits Tuesday in Circuit Court on behalf of the families of at least two victims, Charles Lard and Damien Riley.

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