EAST FLATBUSH — An accomplished Brooklyn architect paying his respects to his recently-deceased mother a few days before Christmas had to be rushed to the hospital after a loose headstone toppled over onto him, pinning his legs and fracturing his hip, relatives said.
Michael Murno, 75, was bringing a wreath to the gravesite of his mother, Rose, who died in June at 101, when he lost his balance and reached for a neighboring gravestone at Brooklyn's Holy Cross Cemetery on Dec. 22.
“As I was falling, I grabbed ahold of the stone, and this 300-pound stone came crashing down on me,” said Murno, who spent five decades overseeing multimillion-dollar construction projects for the city's hospitals, airports and other facilities. “I was scared stiff. I didn’t know if I would ever get out from under it.”
Murno said he had noticed other visitors on his way into the cemetery, and began to call for help.
"When I was under the slab I said to myself, 'Oh God, put people close by me,'” Murno said, adding that the headstone was extremely heavy. “It took four people to lift it, and they could only lift it for a few seconds at a time. They lifted it, and I would shimmy a bit. On the third or fourth try I was out."
Murno credited the good Samaritans with saving his life.
“It was a cold dark miserable day, a Sunday," said Murno, adding that he had taken his jacket off before the headstone fell, and was only in a light shirt.
"I knew I wouldn’t last out there more than half an hour. I was just thankful to God, if there is one. I was completely overpowered physically. I didn’t stand a prayer."
Murno was rushed to Kings County Hospital, where he was treated for serious leg and hip injuries, according to the FDNY. He was there for four days before being moved to a rehabilitation facility in New Jersey, where he's currently recovering.
Murno spent decades shaping the city's most important facilities, including a stint as the Director of Facilities for the city's Emergency Medical Services at the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees all the public medical centers.
He was responsible for massive renovations at Harlem Hospital, Bellevue Medical Center and Woodhull Hospital, and has overseen renovation and expansion projects at Newark Airport, JFK airport and Logan airport in Boston. He spent several years at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm responsible for the new World Trade Center.
Murno, who lived alone in his Bay Ridge home until the incident, said he is currently restricted to moving around with the help of a wheelchair, but hopes to be walking soon. He said he now understands the importance of the handicap requirements he implemented in the city's hospitals he designed for years.
“We always used to say, build to code, build to code,” he said, referring to the width of hallways required for wheelchair access. “Codes are minimums, now that I’m going around in a wheelchair."
Murno, who grew up in Bay Ridge, usually spent Christmas with his mother. He was planning to celebrate with his children and grandchildren — his “two little darlings” — but instead spent the holidays at Kings County Hospital.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which runs the cemetery, called the incident “unusual.”
“It doesn’t make any sense that a monument would just fall down onto somebody without somebody doing something,” said diocese spokeswoman Stefanie Gutierrez.
But Vanessa Hobbs, Murno’s daughter, said her father did nothing wrong.
"In my perspective, it's kind of crazy no matter how hard you pull on it, especially a 75-year-old man," she said.