Workers fired after deadly NYC elevator accident

Emergency personnel gather outside of a building in New York where an elevator accident killed 41-year-old Suzanne Hart, inset, Dec. 14, 2011. CBS/AP/Facebook

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Five elevator mechanics who were on duty when an advertising executive was crushed to death were fired Wednesday, two days after city investigators said a key safety system was disabled during the elevator accident, the workers' employer said.

Transel Elevator Inc. didn't name the people dismissed, but the city Department of Investigation identified five mechanics and apprentices in a report released Monday. The investigation agency and the Department of Buildings said a Transel mechanic had overridden an important safety system before Suzanne Hart's Dec. 14 death.

The mechanics' lawyers had no immediate comment on their firings.

Woman killed in freak NYC elevator accident

The accident happened in a 26-story office tower near Grand Central Terminal that has been the longtime home of advertising agency Y&R, formerly known as Young & Rubicam, where Hart worked. Y&R, had announced just days earlier that it planned to vacate the building for a new headquarters.

Officials said Hart was stepping onto the elevator on the first floor when either her foot or leg became caught in the closing doors. The car then rose abruptly, dragging her body into the shaft and killing her, officials said.

The elevator then became stuck between the first and second floors. Two people who were on the elevator were taken to a hospital to be evaluated for psychological trauma but weren't physically injured, Fire Department officials said.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney's office is reviewing the city agencies' report, and the Buildings Department has suspended Transel co-owner John Fichera's license, saying he failed to get the agency's OK for the elevator car to resume service after the repairs that day. The company, which says it will fight the investigation's findings and the move to strip Fichera's license, has another executive with the required license and is continuing to operate.

Transel said in a statement that it had discharged the five mechanics amid efforts "to further ensure that the highest level of safety is followed by its mechanics."

The Department of Buildings had sharply criticized the workers, saying that they failed to take simple precautions such as strapping caution tape across the elevator door.

"These workers and their supervisors failed to follow the most basic safety procedures, and their carelessness cost a woman her life," Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said in a statement Monday.

Transel, which says it maintains more than 2,500 elevators around the city, had workers at Hart's office building that day to slow some of the elevators. To enable work about a half-hour before the accident, mechanic Michael Hill bypassed a safety mechanism that normally prevents elevators from moving with their doors open, he told investigators.

But he insisted the safety system was back online when Hart tried to get in the elevator. He said the bypass device — a wire hooked up to the elevator's control panel — never left his hand, and he later gave investigators the wire he said he had used.

Investigators said, however, that the wire he gave them didn't look as though it had been used for that purpose, unlike another wire they found under the metal-grate floor by the control panel.

While the prospect of an elevator malfunction makes many New Yorkers nervous, accidents are rare among the 60,000 working elevators throughout the city. There were 43 reported incidents in 2011 and 53 the year before.

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