A stampede of shoppers in a Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Friday morning left one worker dead and at least three patrons injured after an impatient crowd broke down the store doors and trampled the seasonal employee, Nassau police said.
Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens, was pushed to the ground by the 2,000-plus crowd just before 5 a.m. as management was preparing to open the store, which is located across from the main Green Acres Mall building. Hundreds stepped over, around and on the 34-year-old worker as they rushed into the store.
"This crowd was out of control," said Nassau Police Det. Lt. Michael Fleming, whose squad is investigating.
"Nobody was trying to help him," said shopper Nakea Augustine, who was in the line. "They were rushing in the store, rushing, rushing, rushing."
During the fracas, first-responders struggled to reach Damour to tend to him, witnesses said. Even the first police officers on the scene were jostled around, police said.
"It was chaos," said Kimberly Cribbs of Far Rockaway, who was in line and entered the store as Damour was being attended to.
Damour, who was a maintenance worker and was helping with the opening of the store, was pronounced dead just after 6 a.m. His cause of death remained undetermined as of last night pending an autopsy, police said.
At least three other shoppers also suffered minor injuries, police said. Another shopper, 28, who is eight months pregnant, was hospitalized for observation and was doing well.
As part of its Black Friday promotion, Wal-Mart had advertised sales like a Polaroid 42-inch LCD HDTV for $598 and a DVD of "Rush Hour 2" for $2 - prices valid only from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday morning.
Amid the chaos in Valley Stream, shoppers were asked to leave by other store workers, some of them crying, said Cribbs. Others ignored the pleas that they stop shopping, move to the front of the store and exit, she said. "They kept shopping. It's not right," Cribbs said.
The incident began when people who had gathered well before 5 a.m. in the rear of the line began pushing, cascading the people in the front into the sliding supermarket-type doors, which were literally knocked off their hinges, Fleming said.
Augustine, 26, said the melee began right after a Wal-Mart employee told the crowd the store would open early. The employee then said it was a joke. This angered the crowd, leading to people trying to rush the store, Augustine said.
Frightened employees initially used the doors as makeshift shields to defend against the onslaught of shoppers, she said.
At that point, lots of people were on the ground, she said, not just Damour.
Authorities said Damour, who died at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream, was working at the store through an employment agency that contracts with the retail giant.
Fleming did not rule out criminal charges in the case. He said the incident was foreseeable and said the store did not have enough security given the large crowds.
Wal-Mart defended its security, a store executive said in a statement on Friday. The chain says it hired additional security personnel, staffed the store with more employees, and erected barricades, said Hank Mullany, president of the company's Northeast division.
"Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred," Mullany said.
Jim Carver, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the police department should have planned better and specifically assigned more officers to patrol high-traffic shopping areas, like the Green Acres Mall area.
Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a department spokesman, said there were about a half-dozen cops assigned to patrol the mall area that night. He added it's the job of the stores, not the department, to provide store security.
The store was closed for hours after the incident as authorities investigated.