Henrico County, Va., school leaders got a hard lesson in supply and demand on Aug. 16 when a rush to purchase $50 used laptops from the district turned into a violent stampede, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair, and nearly driven over. One woman reportedly went so far as to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.
“This is total, total chaos,” said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.
An estimated 5,500 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the four-year-old Apple iBooks. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents; the machines had been used as part of Henrico’s high-profile one-to-one computing initiative. New iBooks cost between $999 and $1,299.
Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some residents already had been waiting since 1:30 a.m.
When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene, the Associated Press reported.
People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.
Seventeen people suffered minor injuries, with four requiring hospital treatment, Henrico County Battalion Chief Steve Wood said. There were no arrests, and the iBooks sold out by 1 p.m.
Blandine Alexander, 33, said one woman standing in front of her was so desperate to retain her place in line that she urinated on herself.
“I’ve never been in something like that before, and I never again will,” said Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line. “No matter what the kids want, I already told them I’m not doing that again.”
Open to Henrico County residents only, the laptop sale was envisioned as a way to give back to members of the community whose tax dollars were used to subsidize the school system’s pioneering one-to-one program.
Before offering the computers to the general public, the Henrico County school system gave its graduating high school seniors the opportunity to purchase the machines. The remaining 1,000 computers then were handed over to the county government for the sell-off.
District spokesman Mychael Dickerson referred all questions about the laptop sale to county government officials, who were in charge of the event.
Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County, could not say whether the government planned to sell surplus machines again in the future, but he did say, “I’m certain if we do offer another sale like this one, it will not be conducted in the same fashion.”