Last Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Chicago’s E2 Nightclub Tragedy Civil Litigation Comes To An End
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2016

E2 nightclub victim Bianca Ferguson, 24. The lawsuit brought by her family was the last of the 21 death lawsuits that spanned an outrageous 13 year period. Photo: Ferguson family

Thirteen years and five months after 21 clubgoers died in the worst Chicago nightclub tragedy (February 17, 2003), the final civil lawsuit against defendants Clear Channel Communications along with its radio station WGCI-FM and the station’s mixologist DJ Vaughn Woods (aka DJ V Dubb)—the performing artist the night of the disaster—came to an uneventful end (August 10) when lawyers on both sides settled a lawsuit on the opening trial day of the lawsuit brought by the estate of clubgoer Bianca Ferguson. A mention of the conclusion to the infamous incident could not be found in the city’s two major daily newspapers, the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times.

Twenty-one young people died in a crowd crush trying to exit the second story high profile African-American club after pepper spray set-off by club security---at the direction of the DJ, quickly spread through the grossly overcrowded club of more than 1100 people. The E2 club had been ordered closed months earlier by a city agency but the operators of the club (Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, Jr.) operated with impunity. A Chicago Firefighter and a Chicago police officer were moonlighting at the club the fateful night and morning of the tragedy.

Crowd Management Strategies’ Paul Wertheimer was involved in the E2 nightclub tragedy for 13.5 years. He served as an expert witness for 17 of the E2 nightclub death cases, including the final lawsuit brought by the estate of Bianca Ferguson. Mr. Wertheimer was an outspoken critic of the City of Chicago’s role in the disaster as well as all of the parties who were defendants in the civil and criminal litigation that followed. Not one person was criminally charged over this preventable incident.

Local and national pop culture media generally downplayed the tragedy as did the City of Chicago, which, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, made no substantive crowd safety and security revisions to the way the entertainment industry operates in his city, the most corrupt big city in America. Many Chicagoans claim racial prejudice played a role in the token response to the disaster. (The E2 tragedy as currently described in Wikipedia contains inaccuracies and omissions as would be expected of communally written history.)

Chicago’s reaction to the E2 disaster paled in comparison to the Rhode Island response to the Great White concert tragedy in West Warwick (February 20, 2003), where lax fire safety compliance and enforcement, overcrowding, failed crowd management, artist and club management gross recklessness resulted in 100 deaths and more than 200 injuries. The Great White concert tragedy is the worst in U.S. rock and roll history. Nonetheless, Chicago’s response was slightly better than the do-nothing response by Orlando city officials following the Pulse nightclub terror attack in Florida that claimed 49 lives.

In the end, the final civil defendant, Clear Channel Communications, paid the estates of the 21 plaintiffs more than $21 million, a number similar to Clear Channel’s payout for its role in the Great White concert tragedy three days later in West Warwick, Rhode Island. One hundred people died and two hundred were injured in that fire and crowd calamity.

The drawn out legal battle between powerhouse attorneys on both sides was due in large part to the byzantine Chicago legal. The lengthy process, about twice as long as The Great White tragedy litigation was an added psychological burden for the plaintiffs. Some legal pundits the drawn-out Chicago legal process as an extension of the tragedy itself. Nevertheless, most plaintiff attorneys—following the lead of James D. Montgomery and Associates (Melvin L. Brooks,attorney)—as well as the plaintiff families (and friends), stayed the course.

More about the E2 nightclub:

- "Chicago-style Justice: No One To Prison For 21 Preventable Nightclub Deaths"

- "11 Years On, The Last Chapter Of Chicago's E2 Nightclub Disaster Story Still Not Written"

- "E2 Nightclub Tragedy: Tenth Anniversary"

- "E2 Nightclub Tragedy 9th Anniversary: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over"

- "A Shoulder 2 lean on" by Slick Litt

Update: Corrections, additions, December 6, 2016

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