04/17/05 — Officials set sights on club crowds

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Officials set sights on club crowds

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 17, 2005 8:35 AM

Goldsboro's chief inspector, Ed Cianfarra, has seen gruesome footage of the aftermath of the Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people.

He has read the accounts of how the club was well above its maximum occupancy when the ceiling caught fire. People were trampled and suffocated in the scramble to get out.

Not in Goldsboro, he vowed last week. "I'm not going to be looking into a camera and have some reporter ask, 'Did you think this could take place?'"

Beginning this week, Cianfarra's department is launching an aggressive campaign to enforce maximum-occupancy limits.

Accompanied by firefighters, police and Alcohol Law Enforcement agents, Cianfarra and his inspectors will be making surprise visits to nightclubs, bars and restaurants with liquor licenses.

If managers or owners do not have their maximum-occupancy signs posted where the public can see them, they will receive an immediate $200 fine. The signs will then be posted or replaced immediately.

The inspector will then do an informal headcount. If the establishment seems to be in compliance, they will move on.

But if Cianfarra's crew has any doubt, the officers will clear everyone but employees out and then stand at the door with a counter, only allowing the posted number of people back in, he said. The club or restaurant could then only allow more people in as people leave.

"We're going to be bringing everyone outside, whether it's raining, snowing, sleet or hail," Cianfarra said.

Besides the inconvenience this will provide customers, managers will want to take note because some customers will surely ask for cover charges or other costs to be refunded, he said.

The campaign was prompted by several complaints to both the inspections and police departments, he said. Some patrons have said that they have felt like they were suffocating in certain clubs.

There's also greater likelihood of noise complaints and fights in overcrowded clubs because people are more apt to feel claustrophobic or like others are intruding on their personal space, he said.

But Cianfarra said that the first inspections might not be at the clubs where the complaints have been made.

"It's going to be totally random," he said. "We may do one at this end of town and then immediately go to the other end of town."

Cianfarra plans to keep the schedule on a need-to-know basis so the businesses won't have advance warning.

"I'm not out to ruin anyone's entertainment," he added. "But we need to encourage these managers to take responsibility and enforce these limits themselves.

"Overcrowding makes it harder for people to exit in case of emergency. That puts lives in danger. And I won't see Goldsboro become featured on the national newscasts."