Sunday, March 15, 2009

Three arrested and six hurt at America's Next Top Model audition

Six women have been hurt in a "stampede" outside an audition for hit TV show America's Next Top Model.

Chaos erupted in the street as thousands of hopefuls waited in line in New York.

Two women and a man have been arrested on charges of inciting to riot and disorderly conduct, a police official said.

Police didn't know what prompted the chaos involving hundreds of people outside the Park Central New York hotel in Manhattan. The panic left the street outside the hotel littered with shoes and clothing, according to news reports.

"It was pretty scary," Jessica Paravati told WNYW-TV. She said she was caught up in a stampede after waiting on line overnight, hoping for a shot at stardom on the reality show.

"The girls were running like it was 9/11 part two," said Jennifer Brown, 27, of Kensington, Brooklyn. "I feared for my life."

Officials said the chaos Saturday afternoon, involving hundreds of people outside the Park Central New York hotel, was prompted by smoke coming from an overheated car nearby that caused someone to yell "fire," sparking a model stampede at the Midtown hotel.

Mere moments later, someone yelled about a man with a gun, leading to more running and screaming chaos. The panic left the street outside the hotel littered with the would-be models' shoes and clothing, according to news reports.

"People were screaming 'fire,' people were screaming 'guns,'" aspiring model Imani said.

"Somebody screamed 'bomb,' so everybody panicked," Tasha McKethan said.

The audition was shut down after the incident, authorities said.

The hotel's phone rang unanswered. Representatives for The CW Network, which airs the show, released a statement saying it was working with authorities investigating the incident.

Some of the women had waited all night to audition for the show, which is presented by former supermodel Tyra Banks. Her agent and publicist didn't immediately return telephone calls.

Banks has said she created the show to counter stereotypes about beauty, and Saturday's auditions were open only to women no taller than 5-foot-7, which is shorter than the industry's conventions.

"I had to pee in a cup and change my clothes in the street," said Mona Knight, 18, of the Bronx, who slept on the street. "There was no organization whatsoever."

Cops arrived and placed barricades along the street. But by that point, there were already several thousand women lined up. A handful of women started fainting after getting pressed up against the wall, witnesses said.

"Everyone was so compressed, I don't think they could breathe," said Alex Saavedra, 23, who escorted his girlfriend to the audition. "Then they started passing out."

A fight broke out between two men who had been taunting each other for several hours, witnesses said.

Cops intervened and pulled the men off the line. One of them threatened to return with a gun, heightening tensions among the already-frazzled women.

Soon after, a black BMW with smoke pouring out of its hood pulled up in the street near the line, sending the sea of underdressed women scrambling to get away.

"The metal barricade fell down," said Kiara McCarthy, 19, of Levittown, L.I. "All of a sudden we heard this roar from behind us and we looked behind us and there's a wave of people falling on top of us."

Gabrielle Rose, 25, said several women started crying out in pain.

"We all fell on top of each other," said Rose, of Scranton, Pa. "People were squished against the wall, screaming, 'I can't breathe! I can't breathe!'"

Several women were treated at the scene, witnesses said. Two were transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell in stable condition, authorities said.

In the wake of the stampede, cops arrested three people: Clem Clemmons, 40; Vanessa Quiones, 20, and Michael Edwards. All were charged with inciting a riot.

"Representatives of The CW are working and cooperating with local authorities on the matter," a CW spokesman said.

No more women were allowed to audition after the stampede, leaving the diminutive ladies devastated that they missed out on an opportunity to make it big.

"No one came outside to explain anything to us," Palisade Park resident Jessica Paravati said. "We've been standing here since last night, we're out here for a reason, we want this – truly, truly want this."

"I'm 5-foot-3. There's no way I can make it into a model agency," McCarthy said. "They would turn me away at the door. We had an opportunity and it was taken away from us."

Tancredi and friends feel lucky they can walk away from a melee where there was a lack of model behavior. They also want another chance.

"We want another date," she said.

Tryouts also were being held this month around the country, including in Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles.

One would-be contestant in the New York throng said the tumult wouldn't stop her from trying again.

"This is my dream, so I'm not going to give up," Gifty Asika told WNBC-TV.

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