The incident occurred as the shoppers crammed into the Valley Stream Wal-Mart when the doors opened at 5 a.m. Some 2,000 shoppers were waiting to get inside the store for Black Friday sales.
Police said the shoppers knocked Jdimytai Damour, of Jamaica, Queens, to the ground at 5:03 a.m.
Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.
Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like "savages...When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling 'I've been on line since yesterday morning.' They kept shopping."
The 34-year-old Damour suffered an apparent heart attack and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy will determine the exact cause of death.
Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said. Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store.
Four others were also hurt in the crush, including a 28-year-old woman who was 8-months pregnant. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors determined her baby was fine. The other injuries were said to be minor.
The store was closed to incoming shoppers following the incident. Those already inside were escorted out with their purchases.
The ensuing emergency activity clogged the Green Acres Mall parking lot. The Wal-Mart remained closed while police investigated.
Fleming described the scene as "utter chaos."
"This crowd was out of control," he said.
The store reopened around 1 p.m.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a "tragic situation" and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.
"The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority," Wal-Mart representative Dan Fogleman said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this difficult time. At this point, facts are still being assembled and we are working closely with the Nassau County police as they investigate what occurred."
The union that represents grocery workers responded with the following release:
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, New York State's largest grocery workers Union, called for an immediate investigation into the "avoidable" death of a Wal-Mart worker at the Valley Stream, Long Island Wal-Mart. Specifically, the Union has called on the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the New York State Department of Labor and the Nassau County Prosecutor to investigate Wal-Mart's failure to provide a safe workplace.
"This incident was avoidable," said Bruce Both, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500. "Where were the safety barriers? Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner?" asked President Both. "This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart. UFCW Local 1500 will demand a full investigation by all levels of Government to ensure both justice for the surviving family members and to ensure the safety of current employees and the general public. This can never be allowed to happen again and those responsible must be held accountable," Both concluded.
Director of Special Projects for Local 1500 Patrick Purcell called Wal-Mart's comments in response to the incident both "cold and heartless." "If the safety of their customers and workers was a top priority, then this never would have happened," Purcell stated. "Wal-mart must step up to the plate and ensure that all those injured, as well as the family of the deceased, be financially compensated for their injuries and their losses. Their words are weak. The community demands action," Purcell concluded.
Purcell also suggested that people visit the website http://www.walmartcrimereport.com/ to review other incidents of Wal-Mart not providing a safe work and shopping experience.
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, based out of Queens Village, represents over 23,000 grocery workers in New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties. Members of Local 1500 are employed by Pathmark, King Kullen, Stop and Shop, Gristedes, Fairway, D'agastinos, Key Food and Shop Rite.