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Lawyer: Trampled Wal-Mart worker didn't have crowd control experience

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A worker trampled to death when customers stormed a Wal-Mart for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving had no experience in crowd control and was placed at the entrance because of his hulking frame, police and a lawyer said Monday.

The details about the stampede came out as police examined video surveillance provided by the store while considering possible criminal charges. Lawyers were also preparing to sue over the episode.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey noted that the worker, Jdimytai Damour, was 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds. He was killed when an estimated crowd of 2,000 broke down the electronic doors to get to bargains on big-screen TVs, clothing and other items.

"Literally anyone, those hundreds of people who did make their way into the store, literally had to step over or around him or unfortunately on him to get into the Wal-Mart store," Mulvey said.

Mulvey said an autopsy found Damour, 34, died of asphyxiation related to his trampling. He conceded it would be difficult to file criminal charges against any of the shoppers.

"It goes beyond identifying specific people to make a case," Mulvey said. "You have to establish recklessness or intent to harm, which led to his death."

Attorney Jordan Hecht, who represents Damour's three sisters, said the family declined to make any public statements about the man's death.

Hecht said Damour had been working at the Wal-Mart only for about a week and was hired through an employment agency that provides temporary staffing. Damour had not been trained for any security assignments and had no background in crowd control, he said.

A call seeking comment from the employment agency was not returned.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in a statement Friday, called the incident a "tragic situation" and said it had tried to prepare for the crowd by adding staffers and outside security workers, putting up barricades and consulting police.

"Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred," senior Vice President Hank Mullany said. A company spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Mulvey's remarks.

Hecht said that he was considering a lawsuit but that no decision had been made. Two other injured shoppers filed a notice of claim Monday, the first step toward proceeding with a lawsuit.

At least four other people were treated at hospitals and released, including a woman who was eight months pregnant.

Mulvey said while investigators are still piecing together details, it is apparent that the Wal-Mart store lacked adequate security to handle the crowds of shoppers that converged on Friday morning.

"In fact, security was inside the store and not outside organizing, arranging and planning for this anticipated opening," Mulvey said.

Police officers had been called to the scene at about 3 a.m. but left after about a half-hour, he said. The crowd -- then estimated at about 400 -- was not unruly at that time.

The National Retail Federation, the industry's largest group, was unaware of any other store workers ever dying on the job in the post-Thanksgiving rush.

Shoppers around the country line up early outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving in the annual bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday. It got that name because it has historically been the day stores broke into profitability for the full year.

Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail-consulting firm, said retailers quickly learned they can attract massive crowds if they promise amazing savings and limit the inventory or availability of the sale items to a few hours.

A number of retailers have opted to distribute vouchers or organize the sales in other ways to "cut down on the tsunami of shoppers entering the store all at once," he said.

"There are so many retailers doing it the right way, it seems senseless there wasn't strategic and operational planning here," Flickinger said.

In addition to not knowing how much inventory may be available on a sale item, shoppers often don't know the exact location where the merchandise is kept, he said. "They get in early and run the retail racetrack," Flickinger said.

"It is a recipe for disaster," the police commissioner said. "And that's what happened here."


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