— Ray Villeda (@RayVilleda) October 14, 2016
“Everyone is scared to take the elevator.”
That’s how 37-year-old Harold Noel described the elevators in the Bay Park II housing complex, his Coney Island apartment building in the Sea Gate neighborhood, according to the Associated Press.
They’d been a plague for years — city records obtained by the New York Daily News show that 20 complaints have been made against the building for having out-of-service elevators. And that’s only since January 2015.
The building, which is undergoing a large-scale renovation, has 50 open building code violations, four of which relate to its elevators.
So Noel’s fear is understandable. On Thursday, it was realized in the most wretched way.
Haifa Ali, 21, left her apartment on the building’s 23rd floor about 10:30 a.m., the New York Times reported. She was pushing her 6-week-old baby Areej in a stroller.
The two walked down the hallway to the elevator, where Haifa pushed the call button. The doors opened and, like most people do, Haifa began to enter without paying close attention.
She pushed the stroller through the open doors.
But the elevator car wasn’t there.
It was stuck eight floors below. The stroller, carrying 6-week-old Areej inside, plummeted eight stories until it slammed into the top of the elevator car.
The child struck hard, and was unconscious and unresponsive when officials found her. They rushed the child to Coney Island Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
“She looked like a little doll,” neighbor Lida Martori told the New York Daily News. “I’ll have that image in my head the rest of my life. It was heartbreaking.”
“This isn’t a freak accident,” Mike, a building resident who didn’t give a last name, told the NYT. “These elevators always have problems. And it’s been going on like this for 20 years.”
It seems to have been going on even longer than that. In 1991, the New York Times reported that a man named Chandler Johnson, who lived in another high-rise in the same complex, fell 15 floors down an elevator shaft after he leaned on the elevator doors and they gave way. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Apparently, it still isn’t uncommon for the elevator doors to open when the elevator is resting at a different area of the shaft, according to Robert Whitley, another resident of the building.
“You press a button, it don’t stop on that floor, doors open on any other floor,” Whitley told the Associated Press.
According to the New York Times, city building officials conducted a five-year inspection of the elevator that was involved in the infant’s death in January, and it passed. It was also tested in August, when they found that the elevator phone was out of order but deemed the elevator safe.
Grenadier Realty Corp., the building’s management company, taped a letter to the elevator banks Thursday evening, which was acquired by the New York Daily News.
It read, in full:
To all Residents,
As many of you know, a tragic incident occurred at 3415 Neptune Avenue earlier today. Our hearts go out to the family and anyone affected by this tragic event. We are all devastated by this tragedy.
In the meantime, we are working diligently with all appropriate authorities and agencies to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident. In addition, elevators in all buildings are currently undergoing inspection. Your safety and well-being are our number one priority.
A full accounting of the incident is under investigation. We will update you as we learn more.
Further, we are making grief counseling available to anyone who requests it, and will continue to support everyone in their time of need to the best of our abilities.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact building management at 718-946-6070, and we will respond as quickly as possible.
“Our inspectors will remain on scene to conduct a full investigation into this tragic accident. We will be testing all of the elevators in the building to ensure they are operating safely,” a Buildings Department spokesperson told ABC.
It is unclear at this time whether any criminal charges will be pursued.