The horror occurred shortly after 7 a.m., when the entrance gates to the raceway sprang open and hordes of iBook-hungry Henrico residents made a mad dash for the building where the laptops would be sold. Many were hysterical after being pushed down and run over. There were even reports of a baby carriage being turned over and elderly women being trampled.
"They bum rushed the gates and I was knocked over, fighting for my life," said an exasperated Alice Jemerson, an elderly lady. "All these people were on top of me."
According to Henrico County Police, four people were taken to the hospital –one for a leg injury and three for heat-related illness- throughout the sale, which ended shortly before 1 p.m.
Many who attended the event used adjectives like "insane" and "unsafe" to describe it. However, Lieutenant Doug Perry, a spokesperson for the Henrico County Police Department, alleged that the problem was not as bad as many made it out to be.
"A few bad apples found their way inside," Perry told reporters at a press conference after the sale. "It looked worse than it was."
Paul Proto, director of the Department of General Services of Henrico County, insisted that the necessary steps were taken in planning for the event.
"If there had been more staff, you still would have had the same issues to deal with," he said at the afternoon press conference. "Some individuals were very courteous, but some segments of the population were not, and that created some issues."
The iBook sale - the computers were used by Henrico County students the last few years - generated a huge amount of public interest shortly after it was announced. It was even reported that folks from as far away as California and Europe were inquiring about the sales. Due to the overwhelming public response, officials moved the sale from the Henrico County school warehouse to the larger confines of RIR.
And the sale was open to anyone at first. But, after a litany of complaints from Henrico taxpayers, the Henrico Board of Supervisors voted to amend the County Code so that only county residents could purchase the laptops. Henrico residents argued that their taxes paid for the iBooks in the first place, thus they had should have the right to buy them back.
Officials had warned prospective buyers beforehand that camping and overnight parking would be prohibited at the raceway, but several people said on Tuesday morning that they had arrived at the scene as early as midnight. The sale officially began at 9 a.m.
By 6 a.m. an enormous crowd had already assembled at the entrance gate. But at that time, there were only six off-duty Henrico police officers there. Originally, only five police officers were scheduled to be present throughout the day. Henrico Police Chief H.W. Stanley, Jr. said it is customary to have five officers on patrol for an event of that size.
Before the gates opened, officials told the crowd gathered at the entrance that vehicles would be allowed to enter first. Heeding their advice, most went to their cars. However, when the gates opened, a new flock of people rushed the gates on foot, bypassing the cars, which were full of the people who had arrived first on the scene. The episode was the source of much of the crowd's anger.
Once people were inside the gate, they were directed to form a line that began at the entrance to a one-storey building in the parking lot. Shortly after the gates had opened, the line was thousands long and snaked around the lot. Guards at the entrance to the raceway closed the gates to the public shortly thereafter.
When the sale began, Henrico police opened the glass doors at the entrance of the building to let a few people in to purchase laptops. It was at this point that the crowd surged forward. Soon the yelling and pushing would ensue. "Quit pushing! My kid's in there!" the people shouted.
One observer, who had extricated himself from the mayhem, wisely summed up the scenario. "They're going to see themselves on the news tonight, and see what fools they are."
But, for some, the fight was worth it. Sheress Blunt, a hairstylist in Henrico County, was one of the first hundred to receive an iBook. Blunt, who attended the event with her mother and two of her children, said she arrived at 6:30 a.m., entering the raceway surreptitiously through the side gate. She said she purchased the laptop for her children to use on vacations.
Tonya Vaughan, who arrived at 5:30 a.m., also got her hands on one of the first iBooks. As she was leaving the raceway, three people offered to purchase her iBook, with one offering $200.
" I told them no way! I had worked too hard for it," she said.
Perry said Henrico police officers received several compliments regarding the way they handled the crowd. At one point, Henrico police were seen letting some kids who had been pushed aside into the building to purchase laptops.
After the sale ended, many irate would-be customers lingered around the entrance to the building, demanding an explanation as to why they did not receive an iBook. Some said they had been at the raceway since 5 a.m. and, unlike many others, obeyed the rules.
"Can't we at least get tickets for the next sale?" one gentleman asked.
"Sir, there are no plans right now to have another iBook sale," said Proto.