By Adam Nichols, Ben Fractenberg, Mary Johnson, Murray Weiss, Jon Schuppe, Sonja Sharp and Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN EAST — An executive at a prominent Madison Avenue ad firm was crushed to death in a horrific accident Wednesday morning when the elevator she stepped into suddenly lurched upwards, trapping her between floors, authorities said.
Suzanne Hart, 41, director of new business content and experience at Young & Rubicam, was killed instantly while two people inside the elevator watched in horror, sources said.
"It’s a shock and when you find out what happened, it’s a horror," her devastated stepmother told DNAinfo. "She was like sunshine. She was wonderful and caring and happy and an absolute joy.”
Tearful relatives and loved ones streamed into the victim's Brooklyn Heights home in the wake of the tragedy, hugging and consoling one another.
"She was a beautiful person and I don’t have words for this," said her boyfriend, Chris Dicksen, outside Hart's Brooklyn home. "I loved her."
Police said that the California native had stepped onto the elevator in the firm's building, at 285 Madison Ave., near East 40th Street, around 10 a.m.
Officials said that it appears that Hart's foot got caught in the gap between the elevator and the lobby floor, sending her tumbling forward.
At that point, the elevator lurched upward with its doors still open, trapping her between the elevator and the shaft wall between floors, police said.
The two traumatized witnesses, a 22-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman, were taken to NYU Langone Medical Center for treatment for what they'd seen.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the victim's clothing might have been partially to blame.
"Apparently she got caught in some way, with...the closing doors in the elevator lifted her with it," he said.
The incident left many workers in the building shaken. A worker at the Pret a Manger cafe near the building said many huddled inside his store and were too upset to leave.
John Hanna, who owns a suit store next door to the building, said he heard blood curdling yells after the accident.
"We heard banging, we heard screaming," he said.
The 28-story building, which has been the firm's home since 1926, has been cited dozens of times in years past for faulty elevators.
The DOB said that the elevator involved in in the incident was cited for a hazardous violation in 2003, but that the problem has since been corrected, said agency spokeswoman Ryan Fitzgibbon.
The elevator was last inspected in June, but no safety concerns were found at the time.
"There were no conditions found that we're related to the accident," Fitzgibbon said. A cease use order was issued Wednesday.
Y&R recently announced that the firm and its sister agencies were planning to move from the Madison Avenue building to a more modern building at Columbus Circle.
"We are deeply deeply saddened to confirm that one of our employees has died," said the company's CEO Peter Stringham. "The focus at this moment is the well being of our employee’s family and our larger Y&R family.
"As you can imagine, this is a great emotional shock to all."
Tributes poured onto Hart's Facebook page.
"Thank you for your wonderful laugh and endless smile, Suzanne," wrote Todd Cross. "Your spirit lives on with all who were fortunate enough to know you."
Jessica Nurbin Brown thank Hart for "touching my life."
"You are one of the dearest, sweetest people i have worked with and gotten to know," she wrote. "RIP Suzanne. . . you will be missed!"
And Wendy Cole Pratt wrote: "I am so sad for the loss of truly one of the most special friends I have ever known! Your smile and spirit is like no other!"
For hours after the accident, workers milled around the building in shock, teary-eyed. Many wondered whether to go back upstairs.
"It's very scary," said one woman who worked on the 17th floor. "I'm not getting on an elevator. I'm taking the stairs."
"The mood in the building is eerie disbelief," a Y&R employee said. The company was allowing workers to decided on their own whether to go home for the day.
Carlos Castro, 42, who works on the 11th floor of the building, said people would get stuck in the elevators from time to time, but it wasn't so bad to make people think they were dangerous.
The elevators had a habit of jolting to a stop, but he just thought that was how they worked. "It's nothing that you go, oh my god the elevators are crazy," he said.