The life of one more victim of the Rhode Island nightclub fire slipped away Thursday, bringing the total number of dead to 99. Mitchell C. Shubert, 39, died at 1:10 p.m. in Massachusetts General Hospital.
As the death toll from the fire at the Station in West Warwick on February 20 continues to rise (see "Another Hospitalized Victim Of Rhode Island Club Fire Dies"), a survivor of that tragedy, as well as two women who managed to escape the stampede in a Chicago nightclub three days prior, say they will be keeping a closer eye on safety the next time they visit a club ... if there even is a next time.
"If I do go to another club, I'm going to check out the scenery," said 28-year-old Shamaya Mobley, who safely made it out of Chicago club E2. Her friend, Bianca "Be-Be" Ferguson, was among the 21 clubgoers who did not. "I'll always look for an exit sign. I'll check for sprinklers. I'll check for fire extinguishers, and I'll ask questions."
The reliance on one exit while others were available seems to have had a major effect on both tragedies (see "What Happened On Night Of Chicago Club Tragedy? One Club Patron Explains").
"With this experience, you just have a whole new outlook on life and how much you have to appreciate it," said Nichols College student Mike Ricardi, 19, who attended the Great White show at the Station with his friend James Gahan. Together they had hosted a radio show in Dudley, Massachusetts, focusing on '80s metal. But only Ricardi made it out of the fire alive.
"In the future, if I think there's any kind of danger, any kind of safety hazard, I'm not going in," Ricardi continued. "It's just going to trigger too many bad thoughts. I'm going to be a lot more cautious of my surroundings and just make sure I'll be safe in a club."
Mobley, Ferguson and their 24-year-old friend Kizzy Sherrod's night of clubbing started out calmly enough, though around 1 a.m., E2 began to fill up. After being bumped and jostled in the sweaty hotspot one too many times, the ladies were on their way out when a fight erupted. In an attempt to quell the situation, security used pepper spray, and that's when the problems began.
As the noxious fumes spread throughout the club, people were choking and vomiting, and as Mobley and Sherrod can attest, rushing toward the one exit security were instructing people to use. So overwhelming was the tide of people that it seemed impossible to not get swept up in it. They said it took just a few seconds from when the fight broke out for a wave of panic to consume the club.
Since the main club space was above a restaurant, patrons had to walk down a narrow staircase and through a door to exit. When a few people tried to re-enter to gather belongings and check on friends, they found the door was closed, and patrons, some of whom had tumbled down the stairs, began to pile up.
"That was bad judgment, to shut the door," Mobley said. "That prevented people from leaving. People piled up more and more. You're right there by the door, but you can't leave because you're stuck. Your arm is stuck or your leg is stuck. You just can't move. It feels like you're paralyzed."
Both women described the scene of bodies being taken from the staircase pileup and strewn about the dance floor as something from a horror movie.
Besides closing the door, Mobley also blames security for worsening an already bad situation with their use of force.
"Security hurt the situation because when people were pushing forward, they were pushing back up off us," she said. "Like, 'You stay right here,' pushing the crowd back. Some people got angry and tried to push back against the security guard, so that wasn't helping either side."
Mobley and Sherrod regrouped after the scattered exodus, but Ferguson was nowhere to be found. Only when most of the crowd had dissipated and authorities told them to leave did the terrible news about their friend sink in.
At the Rhode Island club, Ricardi and Gahan were in the second row when Great White took the stage at 11 p.m. Like many other members of the audience, they presumed the flames that crept up the foam-covered wall were part of Great White's stage show. By the time they realized it wasn't an act, it was too late.
"At first we thought that maybe they'd have a fire extinguisher," Ricardi remembered. "But then when that egg crate went up it was like a toxic black smoke, and it spread in seconds. When I first felt that smoke and heat on me, it was just unbearable. I'm thinking this is life or death now; this is a very bad situation. I've got to do everything I can to get out of here."
The egg crate material that ignited and led to most of the club being reduced to cinders within three minutes is at the center of an investigation by local, state and federal authorities, as well as a civil lawsuit (see "Victims' Families File Suit Over Rhode Island Club Fire Disaster").
Ricardi, as well as more than 300 others inside the Station, rushed to the exits. There were four in the club, but most fled towards the one they had entered. Blinded by the thick smoke, he wasn't sure his friend was behind him.
"You literally could not see anything," Ricardi said. "I'm praying to God that [Gahan] is right behing me. I just got forced with the crowd. I couldn't even tell you if my feet were on the ground at that point. I was being moved with them and I had gotten knocked down for a second, which looking back could have been one of the best things. I was getting some fresh air."
While the air near the floor made breathing easier, Ricardi panicked at the thought of being pinned down. He felt that the sound of breaking window glass was a sign he was close to escaping. Struggling to his feet as people tumbled on top of him, he eventually made it out through the window.
Once he was a safe distance from the flames, which had by now nearly enveloped the entire club, he realized that he was relatively OK, save for some burns. Then, worry over his friend's whereabouts set in.
"There was a lot of chaos," he said of the scene outside the inferno. "I tried to keep my cool. I was more in a state of shock. I tried to keep my composure. It didn't really last that long after I realized how badly I was burned and that I couldn't find my friend yet — not so much panic but worry. Did he make it out? Did he not make it out?"
A benefit show for families of the Chicago victims, hosted by rapper Talib Kweli, is set for Friday (March 7) (see "Talib Kweli To Host Benefit For Families Of Chicago Club Victims").
Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst is among other artists with similar intentions, wanting to help the families of the Rhode Island victims (see "Fred Durst Vows To Help Families Of Those Who Perished In Club Fire").
—Joe D'Angelo, with additional reporting by Iann Robinson
Look out for your own safety, and check out "How To Keep Yourself Safe If There's A Crowd Crush Or Fire At A Club."
MTV News will revisit the recent nightclub tragedies in Rhode Island and Chicago, and explore club safety issues in a special edition of "The Wrap" premiering Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on MTV2. The special MTV News report will air again Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. Friday at 1 p.m., and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on MTV2.