The owners of a Chicago nightclub where 21 people were crushed to death in a stairwell in 2003 while fleeing pepper spray were sentenced Friday to two years of probation.

Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Daniel Gillespie also ordered Calvin Hollins Jr. and Dwain Kyles to perform 500 hours of community service, The Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/1NgS3BQ )

Hollins and Kyles thanked the judge for the sentence during Friday's hearing.

"It has been a 12-year odyssey for them," Kyles' attorney, Victor Henderson, said afterward.

On Feb. 17, 2003, patrons at the E2 nightclub rushed down a stairwell as they fled pepper spray that a security guard released to break up a fight.

Twenty-one patrons were fatally crushed or asphyxiated, and 50 others were injured in one of Chicago's deadliest club disasters.

Attorneys for the city had agreed to the probation sentence. City Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said he reached out to the families of those killed and consulted with six of them about the sentence.

He declined to discuss what those families told him, saying he didn't want to betray their confidence.

Patton said the "very high" amount of community service hours reflected the severity of the incident but also created something positive.

"This is a better way to bring closure to this than have them sit in jail," he said.

Hollins and Kyles had been cleared of involuntary manslaughter charges but convicted of criminal contempt in 2009 for violating a judge's order to close the second-floor nightclub for building code violations in the months before the stampede deaths. They had been free while their appeals were pending.

The men were originally sentenced to two years in prison, but an appeals court threw out those sentences in 2013 and ordered them resentenced.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com