Ex-Worker Says Nightclub Hid Ailing Patrons

The New York Times

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER | Published: April 21, 2001

A former security guard at a Manhattan nightclub that the city has tried to close said in an affidavit that during his three years of work there at least 100 unconscious or nearly unconscious patrons were pulled into a back room by club workers and left there without medical help.

The club, Twilo, at 530 West 27th Street, in Chelsea, is one of several Manhattan nightclubs that have contracted with private companies to have ambulances wait outside their doors, ready to take patrons who have drug overdoses to hospital emergency rooms. The ambulances allow the clubs to bypass the 911 system and escape the attention of the police, city officials said.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating the practice, which came to its attention last fall when emergency room nurses at St. Vincents Manhattan noted that a large number of young people suffering from acute drug overdoses were being brought in by ambulances run by MetroCare Ambulance, a private company, on weekend nights.

For two years Twilo has been a target of the city, which has alleged that the nightclub is a veritable supermarket for illegal drugs like Ecstasy and GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate. Last summer, a 21-year-old medical student, James Wiest, collapsed on the dance floor at Twilo and later died at St. Vincents.

The former security guard, Joseph Murray, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment after three revelers at Twilo overdosed and were taken to hospitals in October. In an affidavit prepared by the city in connection with its lawsuit to close the club down, he gave details of that incident, in which he said that Twilo’s managers asked him to assist in taking a semiconscious patron to a ”safe area.” He also said he had seen the same action taken in July with another patron who he later learned was Mr. Wiest.

”During the three years that I have worked on security inside Twilo, I have seen at least 100 instances in which unconscious or semiconscious patrons have been placed in the safe area by security and left there,” his affidavit reads. Mr. Murray added that he was told by Twilo managers that ”security is not permitted to call E.M.S. or 911 for any patron.”

David Maloof, a lawyer representing Mr. Wiest’s mother, said he was investigating whether his client’s son was left in a back room without medical attention.

Club officials dismissed Mr. Murray’s assertions.

”We feel horrible that he is making these allegations,” said Peter R. Sullivan, a lawyer for Twilo. ”The truth is that Twilo is far and away the safest venue of its kind.”

Deputy Fire Commissioner Francis X. Gribbon said that during the incident on Oct. 8, Emergency Medical Service workers responded to a 911 call from the club. The workers were greeted by security guards who said there was ”no situation at the club, no patients here,” according to an E.M.S. report from that night.

According to the E.M.S. workers’ report, as they were leaving, they received a report that patients were still inside the club. E.M.S. workers found a young man and a young woman in a room near the bar. Another patron told the emergency workers that someone had been ”moving bodies around the club, trying to hide them,” the report says.

Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington said yesterday that the city was still trying to close Twilo. ”Until a court gives us an order to close them, there is not much we can do,” he said. ”We pray that no one else dies.”

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