Victims’ Families Relieved By Ruling [1999-01-12]

Bill Hutchinson [New York Daily News]


Loved ones of those who died in the 1991 City College stampede said yesterday’s finding that Sean (Puffy) Combs, Heavy D and City University were negligent was long overdue.

“I think it’s wonderful to hear,” said Dorothy McCaine, 60, whose daughter Dawn was one of nine young people who died as a result of the stampede that December night.

“I think it’s time,” she said. “We just wanted somebody to accept the blame. That was our problem the whole time, nobody wanted to take the blame.”

On Dec. 28, 1991, McCaine kissed her daughter goodbye as the 20- year-old headed off to City University in Harlem, where Combs and Heavy D whose real name is Dwight Myers were throwing a celebrity charity basketball game.

She got in and that sealed her fate. The gym could hold only 2,730 people; 5,000 tickets were sold.

More than 1,000 locked-out ticket buyers rushed the doors. A panic swept the packed gym. Those inside wanted out.

Dawn McCaine was shoved beneath a pile of bodies squeezed into a 7-by-12-foot area at a closed exit.

For seven years, Dorothy McCaine has envisioned her daughter’s death. Every time she sees Puffy Combs, now a mega rap star, she thinks of how her daughter died.

“It’s been a long time,” the mother said. “It’s been a terrible time.”

Debbie Williams’ daughter, Sonya, was a third-year nursing student who went to the gym because it was a charity event for AIDS. Combs, a friend, gave her the ticket. “She was a sweetheart,” said Williams, 47.

The Williamses were among the families who settled out of court before yesterday’s ruling. “We settled because we felt we had no choice with New York State law,” said Williams. “I felt that they were responsible. But to what percentage, nobody seemed to agree with me until now.”

Combs, Myers and City College were found equally at fault.

“I can’t believe it,” Williams said. “But I’m glad to hear it.”

Nicole Levy, now 25, survived the gym stampede but didn’t escape the consequences. She suffers from Graves’ disease, a stress-induced thyroid condition she says is linked to her experience.

“I feel vindicated,” she said through her attorney, Peter DeFilippis, referring to those who blamed the victims.