By Lisa Rozner

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A grocery store worker died while loading produce into a freight elevator Tuesday in Hell’s Kitchen.

Now, the city tells CBS2 the elevator should never have been in operation.

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Just before 4 p.m. Tuesday, the FDNY responded to a 911 call about a woman who fell into a freight elevator shaft. It happened inside the Food Emporium supermarket on West 43rd Street near 9th Avenue.

When first responders arrived, they found the 39-year-old woman dead. She has been identified as Maria Sanchez.

The Department of Buildings said she was loading a small freight elevator, also known as a dumbwaiter, at the cellar level when the device moved upwards toward the first floor, causing head trauma.

Sanchez succumbed to her injuries, and the city shut down the elevator after inspectors found it was unregistered and illegal.

“This tragic incident shows just how dangerous unregistered illegally installed elevator devices can be for New Yorkers. We have shut down the dumbwaiter, and will be thoroughly investigating this incident,” the department said in a statement.


The DOB said all elevator devices are legally required to be registered and have a certificate of compliance from the city to ensure they can be operated safely.

A violation was also issued to the owner of the building, Manhattan Plaza Inc.

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It’s not clear if Sanchez was supposed to be using the illegally installed elevator device as a routine part of her job, but her 21-year-old daughter told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner off-camera “the work conditions for minorities [at the supermarket] are very overlooked.”

She says her mom immigrated from Mexico 15 years ago.

Now, candles, artwork and the Christmas tree Sanchez decorated with snacks remind her and her four siblings — ages 5, 11 and 16 — that she’s gone.

“She’s a good person,” neighbor Jimmy Alicea said. “She has a beautiful family.”

“That’s tragic. That’s really a horrible death,” neighbor Henry Sorrentini said.

No one answered the phone at the property company, and the manager at the Food Emporium referred CBS2 to the store’s owner, Tapps Supermarket, where a woman said “no comment” and hung up.

Mike Halpin, who works in the elevator industry, says recently passed legislation requires anyone working on an elevator be licensed and report unregistered devices immediately to the city. That law doesn’t take effect until 2022.

“Until the legislation is fully implemented, almost anybody with a set of tools can try to install or repair an elevator,” Halpin said.

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The city said the investigation is ongoing and additional enforcement may be taken.