Virginians melee at used Apple iBook sale

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

File:Virginians in a queue for iBooks.jpg
Photograph by Jason Coleman.

"Total chaos" is how many described the melee that resulted from a sale of used Apple iBook laptop computers at the Richmond International Raceway (RIR) by the Henrico County, Virginia school system.

Officials estimated nearly 5,000 people thronged the sale for the $50, four-year-old computers. Among them were 17 injured, four requiring hospitalization - one for a leg injury, and three for heat-related illness, said Henrico County Police. Reports of trampling in the stampede were not uncommon, and one driver reportedly tried to drive through the throng of prospective buyers.

Alice Jemerson, an elderly customer said, "They bum rushed the gates and I was knocked over, fighting for my life. All these people were on top of me."

Shortly after 7am EST officials opened the gates and many residents ran hysterically toward the building where the sale was to occur at 9am.

At a post sale press conference, Henrico County Police spokesman Lieutenant Doug Perry told reporters, "A few bad apples found their way inside. It looked worse than it was."

Apple iBooks are the preferred computer for Henrico County schools, and Director of General Services of Henrico County Paul Proto, said changes were made to the event after tremendous interest was generated, some as far away as Europe and California. Officials closed and moved the sale from the Henrico county school warehouse to the RIR, after residents complained that their tax dollars were used to buy the computers, and they ought to have first right to repurchase them. The Henrico County Board of Supervisors voted to amend the County Code so that only residents could purchase the laptop computers.

Although officials had prohibited camping out and overnight parking, some in attendance reported that people began arriving at midnight.

Henrico Police Chief H.W. Stanley, Jr. said five patrol officers were originally planned for the event, a customary presence for an event the size authorities had estimated. But by 6 am, an enormous crowd was assembled at the front gate.

Officials present before opening told the crowd that automobiles would be allowed to enter first, which prompted many to run to their cars. But while some were running back to their cars, others rushed the gate. The resulting confusion created much anger, and guards closed the gates shortly thereafter.

Long lines encircling the sale building were commonplace, and one observer noted, "They're going to see themselves on the news tonight, and see what fools they are."

Some citizens, however, considered their wait worthwhile. Hairstylist and mother of two Sheress Blunt was one of the first hundred to buy one of the iBooks; she came with her mother and said they sneaked into the raceway through a side gate.

Tonya Vaughan arrived at 5:30 a.m., also bought one of the first iBooks and said three people offered to buy it from her for as much as $200. She declined however, saying, "I told them no way! I had worked too hard for it."

Lt. Perry said many officers were complimented on the way they handled the crowd, adding that police were seen letting children who had been pushed aside, into the building.

Mr. Proto said, "There are no plans right now to have another iBook sale."

Henrico County Battalion Police Chief Steve Wood said no arrests were made and the iBooks were sold out by 1pm EST.

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