Frightened New Yorkers shun elevators after crush horror


The routine trip up and down elevators across the city was a traumatic affair for many New Yorkers yesterday following the terrifying death of an advertising executive who was crushed to death as she headed to work.

“I’ve been taking the stairs today. I usually take the stairs at home, but not here,” said Lisa Miller, 41, who climbed 10 floors to her office.

She works across the street from 285 Madison Ave., where Young & Rubicam exec Suzanne Hart, 41, was killed moments after getting one foot in the elevator.

Hart was killed when the elevator she was boarding in the building lobby shot upward like a bullet before the doors closed. She ended up pinned between the elevator cab and the wall.

“She was 41, I’m 41, and it was so close to here,” said Miller. “It just made me think twice.”

The heightened fear came as city investigators focused their probe on electrical work performed on the elevator just hours before Hart was killed.

The Department of Buildings will review contractor Transel’s maintenance procedures and is seeking a complete list of the firm’s clients, said DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani.

“Over the next few weeks, our inspectors will be conducting a sweep of elevators in these buildings,” he said.

Transel has worked at dozens of prominent buildings around the city, including 1515 Broadway, 666 Fifth Ave. and The Plaza hotel, its Web site says.

Meanwhile, the Midtown building where Hart was killed at 10 a.m. Wednesday remains closed today.

Young & Rubicam, an advertising firm, owns 285 Madison Ave. Hart, a Brooklyn resident, was a sales and marketing executive there.

“The force of the accident has raised some structural stability concerns for the building, and our engineers are conducting a review,” Sclafani said.

Elevator experts say any number of electrical problems could have caused Wednesday’s tragedy.

One possibility is a problem with sensors meant to ensure the elevator car won’t move unless the doors are closed, said C. Stephen Carr, a San Francisco-based elevator consultant.

Another is a power surge.

“There have been many cases of extra electricity buildup causing a car to move,” Carr said.

“Redundancies built within their systems” should prevent elevators from moving unless their doors are closed, said Brian Black of National Elevator Industry Inc., an industry group.

A Transel worker died Sept. 23 in the last elevator fatality in the city. Robert Melito, 44, of Staten Island, fell 10 floors down the shaft of a 13-story commercial building at 230 W. 38th St. in the Garment District.

Transel did not return calls for comment.

Family and friends yesterday mourned Hart, a rising star at Young & Rubicam.

“She was a terrific young woman,” said her dad, Alex Hart, outside the city Medical Examiner’s Office.

“There is no easy way to deal with it,” Hart said. “Things happen in life, and we don’t know why. We don’t know how to deal with them, but we do . . . We are grateful for the wonderful 41 years she gave us.”

As the family grieved, many of the millions of people who ride elevators every day in the city were jittery over their normally routine trips up and down.

“People are really afraid. They’re scared and are asking a lot of questions,” said Jerry Hermosur, 47, doorman at an older office building at 30 E. 40th St. “Some people have been taking the stairs now; they don’t want to take the risk.”

Experts say elevator phobia is a common affliction and can be heightened by a freak accident like the one that killed Hart.

It is a combination of claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights).

Signs of elevator phobia can include nausea, a rise in temperature, hyperventilation, fainting, a racing heart rate and, in severe cases, loss of bodily functions.

“Fear of elevators should be treated like any other phobia,” said Dr. Amanda Itzkoff, an anxiety-disorder expert at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

First, she said, patients should practice using elevators, perhaps going up or down only one or two floors at a time to lessen their anxiety.

Nancy Kaszerman, a photographer who lives on the Upper East Side, said she always preferred taking the stairs.

“I certainly thought about [Hart’s death] today, and I’m going to avoid elevators whenever I can,” she said.

Some people found strength in numbers.

“After it happened yesterday, there was a woman who refused to get into the elevator by herself,” said Emmanuel Williams, 28, doorman at 274 Madison Ave. “She said if she was going down, somebody else would be going down with her.”


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