Attorneys representing owners and the building proprietor of the Chicago nightclub where 21 people died in an early morning 2003 stampede still could not agree last Wednesday on a proposed $1.5 million partial settlement of a lawsuit filed by the families of decease victims.
Circuit Court Judge Kathy Flanagan granted a request for the attorneys representing some of the victims to determine how much involvement proprietor Lesely Benodin had in the operations of the south Michigan Avenue building housing the E2 nightclub and Epitome Restaurant.
One of the attorneys, Michael D. Freeborn said the proportion of money Benodin would pay in the proposed settlement might not accurately represent his ability to pay.
“[We] found that Mr. Benodin has a lot of money,” said Freeborn at last Wednesday’s hearing in the Daley Center.
Freeborn said that through independent research, it was discovered that Benodin has more money then was originally thought. Some plaintiff’s lawyers argued the personal wealth of Benodin should have been factored into the February 2006 proposed settlement.
“My clients’ assets never, ever came up,” said Benodin’s attorney. “The only thing that was ever on the table was insurance ?” personal finances are irrelevant.”
Flanagan said the lawyers had 14 days to submit letters requesting an official probe into Benodin’s personal assets and his specific involvement with the nightclub tragedy.
On Feb. 19, 2003, 21 people were killed and more than 50 club goers injured during a stampede at the south West Side nightclub. The 21 club goers of the now shuttered nightclub at 2347 S. Michigan were killed in a stampede after someone in the club used pepper spray to break up a fight. It was later revealed that an off-duty police officer working as security that night sprayed the crowd. The doors to the club were locked as club goers pushed their way to the exits. The ages of the victims ranged from 19 to 40.
Club owner Dwain Kyles and his business partner Calvin Hollis, in February agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle 21 wrongful death and 95 injury claims connected to the club tragedy. Kyles, Hollis and two others connected to the club plead not guilty in September 2003 to involuntary manslaughter. Attorney’s also accused a WGCI radio DJ working at the club that night for instigating the melee, saying that he urged security to spray the crowd.
The nightclub was also cited for numerous building code violations by the city prior to the Feb. 19, 2003 incident.
In 2002, the nightclub was cited for 11 building code violations. Owners were told by the city to not use the second floor of the club. The lower level was a restaurant. City officials said the building should have been closed before the night of the tragic incident.
Flanagan said Benodin’s personal involvement with the nightclub could “change the landscape” of the case.
A status hearing is scheduled for May 24.