NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A Manhattan elevator company with a long and prominent list of clients is at the center of a deadly elevator accident. Transel Elevator Inc. is under investigation and under the microscope following Wednesday’s tragedy in Midtown.
The Department of Buildings said technicians from the company were doing electrical maintenance on the elevator hours before 41-year-old Suzanne Hart was crushed and killed inside the lobby of the Young & Rubicam building at 285 Madison Ave. as she was stepping inside the elevator.
“Workers from Transel were performing electrical maintenance work on the elevator involved in the accident hours before it malfunctioned. This work has now become the focus of our investigation,” Department of Buildings Spokesperson Tony Sclafani told 1010 WINS on Thursday.
The elevator company had no comment and investigators will be back on the scene Friday to continue their inspection of that particular elevator and 13 others in the building. The building voluntarily closed its doors on Thursday and Friday as the investigation continues.
Authorities said that at around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Hart was stepping inside the elevator when it suddenly shot upward, its doors still open. Building department sources tell CBS 2 she fell forward and was crushed between the rising elevator and the wall above.
Emergency officials were finally able to remove Hart’s body at around 7 p.m. Wednesday, almost 10 hours after the accident.
New York elevator expert Patrick Carrajat is familiar with the kind of freak accident that killed Hart. He told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin that the biggest mystery is why major safeguards, sensors and switches with the elevator failed all at once.
“The most common one I’ve seen has been human error. Basically an elevator technician working on the elevator not aware the elevator is in passenger service, allows the elevator to move with circuits disabled,” Carrajat said.
Carrajat also bemoaned the fact that inspections do not happen as often as they probably should.
“The code requires five inspections every two years. We’re getting one a year on average,” Carrajat said.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ John Montone reports
Hart’s father, Alex Hart, who lives in Florida, arrived at his daughter’s Brooklyn home around the same time.
“She was a beautiful person. I don’t have words, don’t have words for this,” said Hart’s boyfriend, Chris Dickson. “I loved her.”
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reports
Hart was known as both an engaging, hard-working executive and a friendly neighbor.
“I feel horrible about it,” said neighbor Kristi Molinaro. “She was a really nice woman and I’m in shock.”
“It’s very scary, actually, and to think that the elevator just slammed on her like that and she was caught,” said neighbor Diane Kepple.
A spokesman said it was last inspected in June and there were no safety violations. The other 12 elevators in the building are still in service. But Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he is deeply troubled by the accident.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reports
“I’m very concerned that over a 12-month period, this building received unsatisfactory four times on inspections to their elevators,” he said.
For years, Stringer has been calling for more information about elevators to be posted.
“So right now, the inspection was an unsatisfactory, but was it for a missing light bulb in the elevator or was there real structural damage that perhaps could have caused this horrific accident?” Stringer said.
There are 60,000 elevators in operation in New York City and deadly accidents like Wednesday’s are rare. Last year, they happened less than 1 percent of the time.
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