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Oversold Charity Game Led to N.Y. Melee, Officials Say : Stampede: Gym was packed with as many as 2,000 people beyond capacity. Eight were asphyxiated after crowds were trapped in stairwell.

From Associated Press

The subterranean gymnasium where eight people died in a crush to get inside for a charity basketball game was jammed with as many as 2,000 people beyond its legal capacity, police said Sunday.

“It was oversold,” Mayor David N. Dinkins said.

In addition to the eight deaths, dozens were injured Saturday night at the charity event staged at the City College of New York by rap music stars.

After viewing videotape shot from the bleachers during the melee, police said the gym in Harlem held up to 2,000 people more than its legal capacity of 2,730.

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Despite the overcrowding, tickets were still being sold at the door, said Mario Salvaggi, a city police patrol chief.

Charles Hirsch, chief medical examiner, said the victims all were asphyxiated--"squeezed front to back"--in the stairwell leading to the basement gym. They included three women and five men who ranged in age from 16 to 28.

After a glass door was broken, many people rushed down the 12-foot-wide stairwell, creating the fatal crush at the bottom, where doors at first were closed, then opened too late.

“The door opens and there were bodies on the floor and people were just running over them,” said Sy Collins, one of the first emergency workers on the scene. Some people were piled six deep, she said.

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The city’s Emergency Medical Service said one of the victims was four months pregnant. Twenty-nine people were injured, including five EMS workers, some of whom were mauled as the crowd fought over their services.

Spectators at the Heavy D and Puff Daddy Celebrity Charity Basketball Game, a benefit to raise money for AIDS education, included ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and rapper LL Cool J.

A recorded telephone message told callers that all of the $12 advance tickets had been sold but that tickets could be purchased at the door for $20.

The game was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., and the doors opened at 5 p.m. The line moved slowly as security guards checked people for weapons, witnesses said.

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By 7 p.m., the game still had not started, and several hundred people on the street began pushing to get inside. A locked glass door was smashed, and people began to rush in, witnesses said.

City police were called in to help with the crowd outside the building. They had limited success directing people into an orderly line but were not nearby when the crush began, Salvaggi said.

Randy Jones, 30, said when people began to charge in, a woman collecting money at the door ran into the gym with the night’s receipts and closed the metal doors behind her, leaving the crowd to pile up in the stairwell.

“People kept coming in, coming in. That’s when people were packed in like sardines,” Jones said.

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Organizers eventually began letting people from the stairwell into the gym, but only a few at a time.

“They would let four in at a time, and two would faint,” Jones said.

Later, an announcement was made that the game would not be played because three people had died. Witnesses said people in the gym then began trying to get out, worsening the crush at the door.


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