5 Workers Fired After Deadly New York City Elevator Accident

By JENNIFER PELTZ | March 2, 2012

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.

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.

Hart, 41, was dragged between an elevator and a wall when the car started rising with the doors still open as she tried to get in.

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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