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City Finds 'Safety Protocols Ignored' In Deadly Elevator Accident At Y&R Building

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A new report shows the deadly Manhattan elevator accident in December that left a woman dead was the result of basic procedures being ignored by the elevator company Transel.

The city released the report Monday.  The reports indicates an important elevator safety mechanism was apparently turned off at the time advertising executive Suzanne Hart was crushed to death when elevator 9 at 285 Madison Avenue suddenly shot updwards as Hart entered, CBS 2's Tony Aiello reported.

Investigators found a wire that they believe a Transel worker used to  bypass a  safety circuit about a half-hour before Hart was killed. Investigators said Transel also allowed the elevator to go back into service without waiting for a mandatory Department of Buildings inspection.

WCBS 880's Peter Haskell On The Story


Investigations commissioner Rose Gill Hearn told Aiello the tragedy was entirely avoidable.

"What happened here was so frightening for everyone throughout the city," Gill Hearn said. "Had the safety circuit not been bypassed, the elevator would not normally jump up and accelerate the way it did with the doors open which is of course an extreme danger."

The mechanic insisted he'd put the safety system back online by the time Hart tried to step into the car, but they concluded the mechanism "was apparently bypassed at the time of the fatal incident, thereby allowing the car to move with its doors open,'' the investigation agency said.

In the wake of the devastating report, the city has moved to suspend the operating license of a top Transel official -- John Fichera. He failed to notify the agency and get an OK to put the car back in service after the repairs that day, among other missteps.

Transel officials would not open the door or answer questions from Aiello at their offices on 34th Street on Monday.

Hart was heading to her office at the advertising agency Y&R, formerly known as Young & Rubicam, when she tried to get into one of several elevators in the lobby of a 27-story tower built in 1926. Two other people were already in the elevator.

As they looked on in horror, it started rising with the doors still open, dragging Hart between the car and the wall. It got stuck between the first and second floors.

"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. Besides putting the elevator back into service without proper clearance, workers didn't follow simple precautions such as strapping caution tape across the elevator door, the agency said.

"If these safety measures were in place, this tragedy would have been prevented,'' LiMandri added. His agency already has cited Transel with 23 violations carrying a minimum penalty of $117,000.

The Department of Investigation, which noted that the findings were being sent to prosecutors, said "the investigation found that the only condition in which elevator number 9 could have moved during the incident is if the elevator was on 'automatic' and the safety circuit was fully closed (bypassed ).''

Mechanic Michael Hill initially told investigators he had no idea why the elevator might have moved with the doors open. Weeks later, he told them under oath that he had temporarily hooked up a wire on the elevator control panel to bypass the safety circuit earlier that morning, the report said.

The procedure, known as jumping, is often done during repairs so that workers can position a car between floors, open the doors to the elevator shaft, and step onto the top of the car to work.

Hill was adamant that he had not accidentally left the jumping wire connected to the control panel once the elevator was in position, the DOI said. He said the wire had never left his hand, and he later gave investigators the wire he said he had used.

That wire didn't look as though it had been used for jumping the safety circuit, however -- and in the interim, some wire "consistent with'' wires used for jumping was found under the metal-grate floor by the control panel, the report said.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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