NEW YORK – A Wal-Mart worker was killed Friday when “out-of-control” shoppers desperate for bargains broke down the doors at a 5 a.m. sale.
Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.
At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.
Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store. When told to leave, they complained that they had been in line since Thanksgiving morning.
Nassau County police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the store doors at the mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the man, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour of Queens, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.
“This crowd was out of control,” said Nassau police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming. He described the scene as “utter chaos,” and said the store didn’t have enough security.
Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said.
Damour, 34, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 6 a.m., police said. The exact cause of death has not been determined.
A 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital, where she and the baby were reported to be OK, said police Sgt. Anthony Repalone.
Police said criminal charges were possible in the case, but Fleming said it would be difficult to identify individual shoppers. Authorities were reviewing surveillance video.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a “tragic situation” and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store. It said it 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 in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those (affected).”
Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like “savages.”
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,”‘ she said. “They kept shopping.”
Items on sale at the store included a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum cleaner for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as “The Incredible Hulk” for $9.
Elsewhere, a woman reported being trampled by overeager customers at a Wal-Mart opening Friday in Farmingdale, about 15 miles east of Valley Stream, Suffolk County police said. She suffered minor injuries, but finished shopping before filling the report, police said.
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 when stores break into the profitability column for the full year.