By Murray Weiss, Mary Johnson, Sonja Sharp, Ben Fractenberg and Jon Schuppe
MANHATTAN — Tragic advertising executive Suzanne Hart was crushed to death in a freak elevator accident at her Madison Avenue office building just after a repair crew had finished work on it, officials said.
Workers from Transel Elevator, a repair company with a lengthy list of prominent clients, had been called to Young & Rubicam building at 285 Madison Ave. to perform electrical work on Tuesday on the elevator where Hart died.
They returned Wednesday morning and soon after they left, Hart stepped into the elevator, which shot upwards with its doors open, trapping her between the car and the lobby walls.
Hart, director of new business and experience at the powerhouse ad firm, was pronounced dead after the 10 a.m. incident, which unfolded while two people inside the elevator watched in horror.
A law enforcement source said the impact was powerful enough, along with the rescue effort, to do structural damage to the building, although the extent was not immediately known.
The Department of Buildings has closed the building, and is now checking the structure to make sure it's safe for office workers to return.
The agency is trying to determine whether Transel Elevator's work played a role in the accident and is conducting a review of the company's work at other buildings.
Transel did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
A law enforcement source said that the elevator that killed Hart was equipped with a safety mechanism that should have prevented the accident. But, for some reason, it failed.
“This is just a freak,” the source said.
Elevator accidents are rare in New York, but Hart’s death resonated across the city because she was killed doing something that millions do with little thought several times every day.
Hart’s family, meanwhile, continued grieving at the home she shared in Brooklyn Heights with her boyfriend of five years, Chris Dicksen. They emerged late Thursday morning, with worn eyes and shaken expressions, and got into a cab.
“I can’t process any of this,” Dicksen said. “Everybody's crushed. She was the bright spot of my life.”
Hart, a California native who moved to New York after graduating from Knox College in Illinois, joined Y&R in 2007 and was tasked with attracting new clients.
Y&R, which owns the 85-year-old building, ordered all of its employees across several sister agencies to work from home for the rest of the week.
One of Hart's co-workers, who stopped by the building Thursday morning, mourned the loss of an "amazing" woman.
"She was always happy, always smiling, always greeting people," said the colleague, who would not give his name. "She was just lovely. It’s a huge loss."
The building, near East 40th Street, has been cited dozens of times in the past years for problems with its 13 elevators, according to Department of Buildings records. The elevator that killed Hart was cited for a hazardous violation in 2003 that had been corrected, a DOB spokeswoman said.
The elevator was last inspected in June, but no safety concerns were found at the time, according to the agency.
Hart’s death raises another potential problem for Y&R, which is planning to move to a more modern building on Columbus Circle. Y&R is reportedly looking for a buyer for its current home, and the accident would make the building less desirable to potential buyers.
Y&R employees were told not to talk publicly about the mishap. CEO Peter Stringham issued a brief statement saying the firm was “deeply, deeply saddened” about Hart’s death.
"The focus at this moment is the well being of our employee’s family and our larger Y&R family.”