Williamsburg, NY - Report Cites Problems in Elevator Where Neuman Boy Died Were Tied to Faulty Maintenance by the Building’s Landlord
Williamsburg, NY - The brown elevator door opened shortly before 9 a.m. and two boys on their way to school stepped inside. They were heading downstairs from their 11th-floor apartment when the elevator — a 21-year-old machine, dimly lighted with steel-paneled walls and a beige floor — stalled.
The boys — Jacob Neuman, 5, and his brother, Israel, 8 — had not traveled far. They were stuck between the 11th and 10th floors of the 12-story brick building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
An elevator shutdown was a fairly routine problem: The electrical control panel in the rooftop motor room sensed an electrical overload and shut down power in response. But there was a second failure in the elevator, one that would turn an ordinary stoppage into a tragedy for Jacob’s family.
Electrical components that control the opening of the elevator cab door malfunctioned, causing the door to open. Once the cab door opened, the boys were able to manually pull open the second, outer door on the 10th floor. With both doors opened, Jacob tried to jump to the 10th floor below, but fell backward, tumbling 120 feet in the elevator shaft to his death.
New details about the accident on Aug. 19 have surfaced in a 52-page report by inspectors with the city’s Department of Buildings. The accident report reveals for the first time that the elevator’s technical problems were tied to faulty maintenance by the building’s landlord, the New York City Housing Authority, the city’s public housing agency.
Both the power shutdown and the opening of the cab door appeared to have been caused by the misalignment and wear and tear of electrical contacts in the motor room control panel, the report said. Other elevator experts and inspectors, including one familiar with the Housing Authority’s elevator operations, said checking for wear and tear on electrical contacts and replacing worn-out ones should have been part of the elevator’s routine maintenance.
“It’s standard practice,” said Scott T. Hayes, the owner of a Brooklyn-based elevator consulting company, Hubert H. Hayes Inc., and a city-licensed private elevator inspector. “This is the sort of thing that on the day-to-day routine maintenance should have been picked up long before it could have gotten to the condition where it caused this problem.”
Jacob’s death has turned elevator safety into one of the Housing Authority’s biggest problems. The chairman of the agency, Tino Hernandez, announced recently that he was stepping down, though he and other city officials said the decision had nothing to do with Jacob Neuman’s death and had been in the works since earlier this year.
The electrical contacts, part of electrical switches known as relays, are crucial to the smooth and safe running of an elevator. The Housing Authority’s 3,335 elevators (in 2,636 buildings) are maintained and overseen by its 400 elevator mechanics, helpers, inspectors and supervisors, and each elevator is supposed to undergo maintenance on a monthly basis.
“The door-open relay contacts on the control board were worn and intermittent contact failure appears to have occurred when the elevator shut down between the 10th and 11th floors,” wrote the two inspectors with the Buildings Department’s Elevator Division who prepared the report, Inspector Ray Martinsen and Chief Inspector Douglas Smith.
At the time of the accident, the elevator had failed its last six-month inspection on Oct. 3, 2007, though for minor issues. Since February 2004, Housing Authority inspectors had performed 11 six-month, two-year and five-year inspections on the elevator, and it had failed 8 of those inspections and passed 3, according to Buildings Department records.
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, has started an investigation into the accident. The Housing Authority declined to comment for this article, citing the continuing investigation.
The elevator — one of two in the building at 70 Clymer Street, part of the Taylor Street-Wythe Avenue Houses — was taken out of service after the accident, but it has been running normally in recent days. Jacob’s mother, Reizel Neuman, 39, still lives in the same apartment with her husband and her four other children, and they still ride the elevator in which Jacob fell.
“It’s not the same as before,” Mrs. Neuman said in a phone interview. “We use it with some fear. We went through a lot of trauma, all of us, and our pain is hard to describe.”
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