Woman, 73, says she was knocked down, stepped on during 'Black Friday' at Sawgrass Mills

Sun Sentinel
Nov. 26, 2005

"Black Friday," the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, began in South Florida early today with a 73-year-old woman being knocked down as a crowd at an electronics store rushed a metal security gate to get inside.

The crowd of shoppers outside BrandsMart USA in Sawgrass Mills, angry at being forced to wait by security personnel, pushed their way under the security gate and down a hallway into the store, forcing dozens of people against the walls and trampling the woman.

"I was trying to get out of the way, but they knocked me down," said Josephine Hoffman of Coconut Creek, who was standing immediately outside the gate as a human wave rushed inside, carrying her along.

"I hit my head on the floor, and people stepped on me," said the woman, who was resting on a box of merchandise inside the store following the 7:30 a.m. incident. "I don't understand why people do these things."

A store manager asked whether she needed medical attention and called for assistance, while Hoffman's two daughters phoned the police.

The incident came as shoppers lined up all over South Florida for Black Friday, the start of the holiday shopping season and the second-busiest shopping day of the year, after the Saturday before Christmas.

A woman at a Pembroke Pines Wal-Mart was also injured and required hospital treatment when she was pushed to the ground by another shopper, according to fire officials.

Shopping crowds were reported to be large around the United States because many retailers offered deep discounts, hoping to spur consumer buying amid an uncertain national economy.

Moments before the crowd burst under the metal gate at BrandsMart , Tony McLeod, another BrandsMart manager, tried to calm down shoppers, telling them the store could only allow groups of about 20 to enter the store at one time to avoid overcrowding.

BrandsMart personnel tried to keep the total number of shoppers in the store to about 500 to meet fire department regulations, he said.

"There is more than enough for everybody. The sale is going on all day," he shouted as frustrated shoppers shouted back, complaining they were tired of waiting.

"We have your money out here," one woman responded angrily. "We need to go to other stores. I can't stand here all day."

One man shouted through the gate that he had been waiting for an hour and half. A woman from Brazil, nearly in tears, asked in Portuguese whether she could be allowed inside because her husband was already there. Others complained that security personnel lowered the metal door and left them isolated from family members.

Inside the store, shoppers were calmer. There were a few hundred people inside since the store opened, but the aisles were not crowded and most of those inside were waiting patiently in long lines to reach one of the store's 17 cashiers.

People began lining up at BrandsMarts two entrances before 4 a.m. Friday, hoping to snag some of the doorbuster specials or hundreds of other discounted items. "We came in about 4:45, and there were already lines," said Cosmo Adamo, the general manager.

By 6 a.m., when the store opened, hundreds of people waited in long lines snaking around the building outside the main entrance, which faces a Sawgrass Mills parking lot, and at the mall entrance.

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