Gruesome Elevator Accidents Reveal New York Nightmare

Horrific elevator accidents that killed one woman going to work in an office building and badly injured another visiting a patient at a hospital for Christmas are making some people think twice before stepping over the gap and into the lifts that keep the city of towers and high-rises moving.

"I've never really liked elevators," Alyson Schill said Thursday after hearing about the brutal death of an advertising executive who stepped into an elevator a day earlier in a midtown Manhattan office building and was dragged and crushed.

The Queens resident shuddered a little as she compared the accident to a horror movie.

"But I work on the ninth floor, and I can't by any means take the stairs up to work every day. ... So it's a conundrum," Schill said. "There are risks you run with every choice you make."

On Thursday, prosecutors announced charges in a similar case that had Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes sharing his own fear of the moving windowless boxes on which the residents of the nation's largest city rely.

"I guess everybody gets into an elevator. ... Me, I'm claustrophobic. I'm always concerned of being trapped between floors, but I never would think of something like this happening," Hynes said as he recounted the ordeal faced by a woman who became trapped by a faulty elevator on Christmas Day last year.

The woman, Deborah Jordan, was dragged up eight floors, crushing her arm and leg against the wall of the elevator shaft, after a repairman wrongly disabled a safety switch that would have prevented the elevator from moving while its doors were open, prosecutors said.

The repairman, Jason Jordan, who's no relation to the injured woman, was charged Thursday with assault and reckless endangerment and was released without bail. He said outside court it was a terrible accident.

"That accident happened after I left (the hospital)," he said.

The two accidents -- nearly a year apart -- hardly represent a clear and present danger for the city's residents. Last year, there were 53 elevator accidents reported out of more than 60,000 working elevators throughout the metropolis, the Department of Buildings said.

But despite the odds, the bloody tales still seemed to have the power of an urban legend -- or urban nightmare.

Bartender Neill O'Reilly, who works in Times Square, said that his patrons had been buzzing about the woman killed by a technology she no doubt took for granted.

He said elevators are "too unreliable," explaining that he would never agree to live in an elevator building. Still, he said, the stairs in his second-story walk-up present their own hazards: "It's always a danger when you're drunk."

While many New Yorkers may harbor a fear of getting trapped between floors, April Gabriel says her fears are more dire.

"You know when it stops on every floor and has that thump sound? It kind of jerks a little?" she said. "I hold on real tight."

And each time, she said, she imagines the worst: "The same thing that happened to that poor woman -- or it just going down and down and not stopping."

She said hearing the story of this week's fatal accident just makes her more determined to avoid elevators whenever possible.

"I'd rather take the steps anyway," she said. "It burns calories."

Hynes' announcement came a day after Manhattan advertising executive Suzanne Hart was killed, but the two accidents were unrelated.

On Wednesday, Hart was stepping onto an elevator at her Madison Avenue office building when it rose abruptly with its doors still open, pulling her along. She was crushed to death between floors.

Department of Buildings spokesman Tony Sclafani said Thursday that workers from New York-based elevator company Transel had been performing electrical maintenance work on the elevator involved in the accident hours before it malfunctioned. He said investigators would be examining other elevators maintained by the company around the city.

"This work has now become the focus of our investigation. We're going to be reviewing their maintenance protocols," Sclafani said.

He said that the force of the accident raised potential structural concerns for the building and that engineers were conducting a review.

The elevator company did not promptly return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

Hynes said that last Christmas Deborah Jordan was at SUNY Downstate Medical Center with her daughter to visit a patient when she stepped onto an elevator that suddenly lurched up. Her leg became trapped outside, in the space between the elevator car and the elevator shaft, and scraped against the floors as it rose.

Her daughter is seen on surveillance video reacting in horror as she is dragged up. As she moves up the hospital, doctors gasp and turn and run to try to get help.

One woman covers her ears because of Jordan's screams.

Jordan went up eight floors, to where the repairman was working and had called up the faulty elevator by wrongly tripping a switch, prosecutors said. Safety mechanisms are supposed to prevent elevators from moving while their doors are open.

Hynes said investigators determined the repairman, who arrived shortly before Jordan was injured, was to blame.

The repairman should have gone floor to floor to make sure no one was inside the faulty elevator before he tripped the switch on it and should have had someone working with him, prosecutors said.

The injured woman spent three months in a hospital being treated and is still in a rehabilitation center, prosecutors said.

Hynes urged the passage of a bill, led by state Assemblyman Keith Wright, that would amend labor laws to require continuing education and licensing for people who operate elevators to help avoid accidents like the ones that killed Hart and injured Jordan.

"It's not a particularly common event," Hynes said, "but that it happens at all, and the juxtaposition between the death of that poor woman just recently and what happened to Miss Jordan, has got to make everyone very, very concerned."