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Suzanne Hart's Death Could Have Been Avoided if Rules Followed, Sources Say

By Murray Weiss | January 17, 2012 6:53am
Suzanne Hart, 41, an exec at Young & Rubicam, was killed in an elevator accident at the firm's offices at 285 Madison Ave. on Dec. 14, 2011.
Suzanne Hart, 41, an exec at Young & Rubicam, was killed in an elevator accident at the firm's offices at 285 Madison Ave. on Dec. 14, 2011.
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Facebook/Suzanne Hart

MANHATTAN — Suzanne Hart's horrific death likely would have been prevented if elevator repairmen had not violated city rules by rushing the lift back into service without the required OK from the Department of Buildings, DNAinfo has learned.

Sources told "On the Inside" that Transel Elevator Inc. did not inform the DOB that it had completed work at 285 Madison Ave. last month. That mandatory notification — a standard requirement of all city permits — would have triggered a final, independent inspection of the elevator by the city before it could carry passengers.

“In this case we believe the accident would have been prevented if the Department of Buildings had been notified as required,” a source said.

City investigators believe that DOB tests would have likely unearthed the fatal “flaws” in the elevator’s operating system and prevented the death of Hart, 41, a Young and Rubicam executive.

“On The Inside” sources say the findings of the city’s joint Department of Buildings and Department of Investigations probe will be turned over to the Manhattan District Attorney's office to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

“The process you go through calls for certain precautions to be met, and for checks and balances to be done by the contractor and the city,” a source told “On The Inside.” 

Hart was killed Dec. 14, when she stepped into the elevator on her way to work at about 10 a.m. — just as she had done for years — when the elevator doors suddenly closed on her, clamping a leg as the elevator moved.

She was crushed against the second floor landing as two other people who boarded the elevator ahead of her watched in horror.

“Were they rushing the elevators back into service? Was it an inconvenience having it out of service? Is it time is money? We do not know,” a source said.

The Transel workers involved in the accident have “been less than cooperative” and have not yet been interviewed by city investigators, the source said, although the company has provided assistance in the probe.

Sources say investigators have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of the accident, but as DNAinfo first reported they are zeroing in on "flaws" in computer and electronic recalibration work on the system conducted on the day Hart died.

The city has done a complete forensic recreation of the incident right down to its electronic intricacies.

Since the accident, the DOB has inspected thousands of elevators in the city and believes that what occurred at 285 Madison Ave. is a “site specific” aberration stemming from “human error” and a lack of proper “checks and balances,” sources said.

“This was a unique situation,” one said.

At the time of the accident, officials believed the elevator was hurtling upward at an extraordinary rate, but investigators have concluded that the speed was actually the norm — roughly 500 to 600 feet per minute.

Sources have now provided other details about the accident.

City investigators now know that Young & Rubicam, which owns the 85-year-old building, brought in Transel to participate in an elevator-upgrading program.

The Transel work permit claimed the company wanted to change the speed of the elevator — they actually wanted to slow it down — as part of annual maintenance and “preparation for upgrading the system,” the source explained.

Investigators believe a missing computer part may be to blame for the accident and that the error would have been detected if proper checks and balances were followed.

Transel’s safety record came under fire with the media reporting on previous violations at 285 Madison Ave., and at other buildings where the company worked. 

“In fairness to them, their record actually conforms with the industry norm,” the sources said, noting that the building owners should also have known that the DOB had not been informed before the elevators were put back in operation.

Hart’s death rattled the city because she was killed doing something routinely done by millions of New Yorkers everyday.

The DOB and Hart's family declined comment. Calls to Transel were not returned.

By coincidence, the day after Hart’s death, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes announced the indictment of an elevator repairman whose allegedly shoddy work resulted in a woman being seriously injured when she was dragged seven floors in an elevator at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn in December 2010.