Sunday, November 27, 2005


Reports: Scene turns chaotic at 2 Wal-Marts


So much for the genteel South.

Early Friday morning, shoppers at a Wal-Mart in Beaumont told a local TV station that they were pepper-sprayed by a security worker when shoving broke out in the store's electronics department. In an Orlando, Fla., Wal-Mart, news cameras captured images of a man being wrestled to the ground by security after he allegedly cut in line to get a laptop computer that was marked down as part of a promotion.

KBTV, the NBC affiliate in Beaumont, reported on its Web site that a crowd of shoppers was warned by an off-duty Beaumont police officer to back away shortly before he pulled out a can of pepper spray and sprayed it several times. Some customers were treated by emergency medical workers in the store parking lot, and others told a KBTV reporter that they planned to drive themselves to hospitals.

In Orlando, the man who allegedly cut in line began arguing with fellow shoppers and then fought with security guards, ABC affiliate WFTV-TV reported on its Web site. The station reported that store employees were tossing the laptops into the air for shoppers to catch, causing people to bump into one another in the scramble. The man was let go with a warning after explaining that he thought the plainclothes security officers were other customers.

Another Florida shopper made headlines on the day after Thanksgiving in 2003, when she allegedly was trampled by a crowd rushing to grab discounted DVD players. It was later uncovered that the woman, Patricia Van Lester, was a former Wal-Mart employee who had filed multiple injury claims against Wal-Mart and other businesses before the 2003 trampling incident.

A Wal-Mart spokesman did not return a call seeking a comment.

The situation appeared to be calmer at Wal-Mart's locations in North Texas, where shoppers lined up for early-bird specials including a 42-inch plasma TV for $997, a portable DVD and CD player for $79.86, a laptop computer for $398, and a children's bicycle priced at $25.88.

Sonny Littlefield, manager of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on South Cooper Street in Arlington, said his employees began planning for the sales blitz more than a month ago.

To make it easier for customers to access the sale items, groceries that are typically featured in the store's center aisle were cleared out and replaced with discounted televisions. Employees also cut off the lines for select items once they knew that the number of people in line matched the number of products available.

Littlefield said his store had 30 of the $398 laptops and 10 of the plasma TV sets, which customers began lining up for at 11 p.m. Thursday. Because the store is open 24 hours a day, customers were able to wait inside the store next to the displays for each sale item.

"We were packed at 4:30 a.m., but the customers were very cooperative, and it's gone really smoothly," Littlefield said Friday morning.

See also our collection of cultural-defining Wal-Mart moments.

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