Since our previous blog post on the subject, more details have emerged about the fatal elevator accident that occurred on New Year’s Eve in lower Manhattan. Stephen Hewitt Brown was on his way to a party, preparing to celebrate the future and the upcoming year. But his optimism was crushed when a broken elevator, that long-time residents are referring to as a ‘known death trap’, killed him in a tragic accident.
Hewitt-Brown’s death was widely reported in local media outlets. Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, he was in an elevator with a group of people. He wished a woman “Happy New Year” just before the faulty elevator that they were in took an unexpected plunge. The elevator began to drop as the woman entered and it was apparent that her feet were about to get stuck in the gap.
Hewett-Brown acted fast in the pressure-packed moments as the elevator descended. He saved this woman’s life by shoving her from the elevator but his brave efforts to protect her cost him his own life. The shoddy and malfunctioning elevator dropped farther and Hewitt-Brown’s body was perilously caught between the elevator and the third-floor. He was trapped and the elevator was crushing him. Witnesses described the grueling scene as they desperately tried to extricate him from the pinch point. It was all too little and too late. Hewitt-Brown’s last words, according to terrified onlookers, were “I can’t breathe” as the elevator continued to crush his helpless body, “Please help me.” Stephen Hewitt-Brown was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency personnel. He died a hero.
How could something like this happen? An investigation has ensued and the Department of Buildings Investigators aim to find out. But can the independence of this investigation can be trusted?
The building where the faulty elevator is located is part of a pair of buildings that are jointly owned by the City of New York and the Archdiocese of New York’s Catholic Charities. Residents who live at the 2 buildings have long bemoaned the state of the elevators at the towers located in lower Manhattan at 410 and 460 Grand Street and 131 Broome Street.
Some residents like Tenant Association President Daisy Paez have granted interviews to local media outlets and described past experiences with the elevators that suggest the building was more concerned with covering up an apparent paper trail of problems related to the elevators then repairing the shoddy elevators. She recounted a recent experience where she was trapped between floors on an elevator and when she was finally found the building personnel tried to avoid calling the Fire Department so that there was no record of the incident. She claims that there have been repeated requests for either new elevators or repairs made to the existing ones. Other residents claimed that the elevators jump and that the emergency hatches don’t function. There is a long and troubling history of violations of the buildings elevators. Some of the violations that date back to 2014 still have not been resolved. In 2015 there is a record of 7 different residential complaints to the Department of Buildings about the elevators. That does not account for any complaints that were made directly to the building.
The buildings are part of what’s known as Section 8 Housing. This means that the owners – – the City and the Archdiocese – – are receiving Federal funds to supplement the rental income paid by lower income families. Some questions that needs to be answered is this: Did New York City and the Archdiocese neglect to address the faulty elevators and pocket the Federal funds while knowingly jeopardizing lower income residents? If this was a private building with this kind of shoddy track record don’t you think that City officials would be expressing outrage? Can the investigation and its findings be trusted if the agency conducting the investigation is part of the City of New York and adverse findings will likely implicate the City? We will be following this case and hopefully will come across the answers to these critical questions and more.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of serious accident victims. They have a successful track record handling serious elevator accident cases. They have recovered nearly $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You may learn more about the firm by reviewing their website or by calling them at 212-736-5300.