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CCNY Shares Liability In ’91 Stampede Deaths [1999-01-12]

Associated Press [New York Newsday]

City College of New York was found to be 50 percent liable for the deaths of nine students crushed in a stampede during a celebrity basketball game sponsored by rapper Sean (Puffy) Combs.

State Court of Claims Judge Louis Benza of Albany apportioned the other 50 percent of blame to Combs and rapper Dwight (Heavy D) Myers, cosponsor of the Dec. 28, 1991 event.

Combs’ lawyer, Mark Goidell, said the court has jurisdiction over public agencies and therefore the ruling does not affect Combs and Myers.

The lawsuit was filed by Nicole Levy, 25, one of dozens injured at the bottom of a staircase where some were suffocated by the crowd trying to get into a gym.

Levy’s lawyer, Peter De Filippis, said his client watched her best friend, Sonia Williams, 17, die of suffocation. De Filippis said Levy developed Grave’s disease, a thyroid condition brought on by severe stress.

Benza wrote in his decision, dated Dec. 31, that CCNY officials knew the celebrity basketball game had been oversold and that more than the originally expected 500 would attend. Police said about 2,500 showed up.

The judge said the school’s crowd-control plan was inadequate and school officials abandoned their security responsibilities to Combs’ people.

When the crowd tried to rush into the gym, Combs’ security closed the only door and propped a table behind it to make sure only those who had paid could enter, but people kept pouring down the stairs.

De Filippis said he and lawyers for the college will meet Jan. 29 to confer on a possible settlement. CCNY said it was reviewing the ruling.