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Suzanne Hart Elevator Death Probe Focuses on Computer Replacement

By DNAinfo Staff on December 16, 2011 3:08pm  | Updated on December 16, 2011 3:59pm

Suzanne Hart.
Suzanne Hart.
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Facebook/Suzanne Hart

By Murray Weiss and Jon Schuppe

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Investigators probing the horrific elevator death of Young & Rubicam ad exec Suzanne Hart are zeroing in on computer equipment that was replaced and electrical equipment that was recalibrated on the lift in the hours before the woman's death at her Madison Avenue office, DNAinfo has learned.

Probers are reviewing work by repair company Transel Elevator in search of a cause in Wednesday's incident, which shook the city, because “something obviously went terribly wrong” just after it was finished.

According to a source with knowledge of the investigation, Transel employees were replacing computer equipment and recalibrating electrical equipment for the elevator that day.

The work this week was part of a standard checkup that was requested by the building’s management, the source added.

The new development comes as the city's Department of Investigation and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have joined the Department of Buildings in investigating the devastating Dec. 14 incident at 285 Madison Ave.

As part of the probe, the DOB plans to hire a private investigative firm to reconstruct the damaged elevator and its electrical system, the source explained.

Investigators will also pore over Transel’s work at other buildings, as well as its operational protocols, according to the DOB.

Transel, which has over 2,500 units under maintenance contract, claims a long list of prominent New York clients, including Carnegie Hall, Louis Vuitton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium and many of the city's biggest real estate firms.

“We are thoroughly cooperating with the investigation into this tragic incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time," Transel said in a statement. "Since Transel was founded in 1989 the safety of our elevators and the security of those who use them has been, and continues to be, our top priority.”

According to sources, the repair firm was first called to do work on the elevator at the Y & R building on Tuesday, and they returned on Wednesday morning.

After they left, Hart, 41, Y & R's director of new business and experience, stepped inside the car that had just been repaired.

The elevator suddenly shot upwards with its doors open, trapping her in the gap between the elevator doors and the wall of the shaft between the first and second floors.

The impact crushed her to death, and left two people inside the elevator traumatized.

The accident was so violent that the elevator and surrounding walls were badly damaged, with tiles and concrete being knocked away on the first and second floors.

The DOB closed the building, where a memorial was recently set up in Hart's honor, to make sure it was safe. It has yet to reopen.

In their search for an explanation, investigators reviewed the circumstances of the Sept. 23 death of a Transel repairman on West 38th Street.

In that case, Robert Melito, 44, was working in an elevator when his partner, who was in a control room, lost radio contact.

It turned out that Melito had fallen 10 stories down the elevator shaft, but investigators found nothing that would indicate a link to this week’s tragedy, a law enforcement source said.

The Young & Rubicam building, near East 40th Street, has been cited dozens of times in the past 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 was corrected, a DOB spokeswoman said. It was last inspected in June, but no safety concerns were found at the time, the DOB added.

During his weekly radio appearance on John Gambling's WOR show Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the prior violations were not that significant.

“This building didn’t have any real violations… It was nothing serious,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jill Colvin, Mary Johnson and Tuan Nguyen