July 11, 2014

Parents of NY Teenager Killed in Car Crash Seek Tougher Distracted Driving Laws

The parents of Even Lieberman, a 19-year-old college student killed in a 2011 car accident, are calling upon lawmakers to toughen distracted driving laws in New York. In response to their son's death, which was caused in part by distracted driving, parents Ben and Debbie Lieberman formed the organization DORCs--Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The organization seeks to inform the public about the dangers of distracted driving and calls upon state legislators to treat distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving.

While Plains resident Jacy Good, an advocate for DORCs, lost both of her parents and suffered a life-long injury as a result of being in a distracted driving car accident. Highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, Good stated, "It is critically important that distracted driving laws are as strictly enforced as drunk driving laws have become. We know that the simple act of having a conversation on a cell phone delays our reaction time and causes cognitive impairment resulting in attention blindness that leaves a driver with the same or worse driving ability as a driver with a .08 percent blood-alcohol content--the legal threshold for driving drunk."

car phone.jpgAs detailed in a USA Today story, on the early morning of June 16, 2011, 19-year-old Michael Fiddle was driving Evan Lieberman and two other friends to their summer job on Long Island. Fiddle got into a head-on collision that killed Lieberman and injured the two other passengers. Fiddle claimed that he fell asleep at the wheel. He never faced any criminal charges as a result of the fatal accident. However, as a result of a civil lawsuit filed against Fiddle by Lieberman's parents, investigators were able to subpoena Fiddle's cell phone records at the time of the crash. Administrative Law Judge Donna Marinacci ruled that the records showed that Fiddle was texting at the time of the accident which "constituted gross negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle" and showed a "reckless disregard for life." Fiddle's license was suspended for one year as a result of the ruling.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Lous Alagno stated that distracted driving accidents can be difficult to prove. He remarked, "Without a witness, we usually have no way of telling. We would have to subpoena records, which can take time. Right now, it's difficult to prove."

Under current New York State law, driving while using a portable electronic device, such as a cell phone, is illegal. Such use of a device includes talking on a hand-held phone, texting, emailing or playing video games. Drivers can talk on a hands-free device or use their phone to call 911 in an emergency. Currently, drivers caught using an electronic portable device may receive five points on their license and receive a fine. First time offenders will receive a fine ranging from $50 to $100, plus a $93 surcharge.

July 10, 2014

FDNY Officials: No Working Smoke Detectors in Fatal Apartment Building Fire

Officials of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) stated that were no working smoke detectors in a Queens apartment building that caught fire in October 2013. The fire, which began in the basement around 2:00 p.m., quickly spread up a stairwell. After firefighters found a man unconscious in the attic, he was rushed to Long Island Jewish Medical Center with critical injuries; he was pronounced dead a short time later. Another man suffered from minor injuries after he jumped from a window to escape the burning apartment building. He was transported to a local hospital and is expected to recover. The blaze, which erupted at a two-story home on 94-67 Springfield Boulevard in Queens village, took one hour for firefighters to bring under control.

Over a one-week period in October 2013, five people were killed and four people were injured in residential house fires in New York City. In all cases, the homes or buildings lacked working smoke detectors. In 2012, 58 people were killed in New York City fires. Seventy-two percent of these fatalities occurred in homes or buildings that lacked smoke detectors.

Commenting on the fatalities that occurred over a short time period in October 2013, FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano stated, "Five people we lost in fires, and no smoke detectors. In my mind these are preventable deaths."

In one fire that erupted in mid-October 2013, a 63-year-old taxi driver and his 91-year-old mother were killed after flames quickly engulfed their two-story brick Brooklyn home. FDNY officials stated that the fire was caused by a space heater that was powered by a long extension cord which was stapled to the floor. The staples exposed the copper wiring which began to spark. Several neighbors helped the man's wife, daughter and infant grandson escape from the home. However, neighbors, who reported that the heat caused the windows to explode, stated that the hot flames and heavy smoke prevented them from rescuing the taxi driver and his elderly mother.

candle.jpgDuring the same time period, three children were killed in a Bronx house fire caused by a burning candle. According to FDNY officials, unattended candles during the holidays are the cause of many fires. In addition, during the cooler months, people often try to heat large drafty home by turning on the over or stove burner. Such actions can result in house fires. Cassano stated that the causes of such fires can easily be eliminated. He stated, "These tragedies are preventable."

In response to the fatal fires, the FDNY handed out 1,000 free smoke detectors to city residents who didn't have one in their homes. In addition, the department also handed out battery-operated candles for people to use during the holiday season.

July 10, 2014

Repairman Charged with Felony Assault after Woman Seriously Injured in Brooklyn Elevator Accident

A Brooklyn grand jury indicted Jason Jordan, an elevator maintenance man, on felony assault and reckless endangerment charges in December 2011 for allegedly causing an elevator accident that severely injured a woman's arm and leg. In addition to causing the accident, prosecutors accused Jordan of fleeing the accident scene "without saying a word or offering help" to the victim. The woman, whose leg was badly mangled after being dragged outside of the elevator for eight floors, was hospitalized for three months and had to be treated at a long-term rehabilitation facility. She also suffered from psychological trauma and now fears riding in an elevator.

corridor.jpgOn Christmas Day in 2010, Debra Jordan, who is not related to the elevator mechanic, was visiting a sick friend with her daughter at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. A video surveillance camera showed Ms. Jordan entering the elevator. However, before the doors were even closed, the elevator shot upward for eight floors while Jordan's left arm and leg hung outside of the cab. Prosecutors stated that Mr. Jordan, the mechanic, took a shortcut to repair the elevator and bypassed a safety mechanism designed to prevent the elevator from moving with the doors open. The Brooklyn District Attorney stated, "Screams could be heard throughout the hospital as she passed each floor, unable to free herself from this nightmare...what happened to Ms. Jordan was a direct result of the criminal conduct of the defendant." Surveillance video captured the mechanic looking up the elevator shaft at the screaming woman and then quickly exiting the building.

When firefighters and emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they had to first stabilize the elevator with clamps. They also had to apply a tourniquet to the woman's badly bleeding and almost severed leg. For nearly one hour, emergency responders used a gas-powered chainsaw to cut pieces of the elevator and sections of the floor. When she was finally freed, Ms. Jordan was rushed to Kings County Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery.

A person who witnessed the rescues stated, "A big chunk of her leg was missing. It looked like someone ripped it open with a knife." The witness also stated that the victim's foot appeared to be partially severed. While Ms. Jordan didn't need to undergo an amputation, her left arm and leg sustained multiple fractures as the result of the accident.

The Brooklyn DA's office pointed out that current New York State laws and regulations do not require elevator maintenance workers to be licensed or certified. Keith Wright, an assemblyman from Manhattan, stated that he is seeking to introduce a bill to require elevator mechanics to be properly trained to prevent future accidents.

Woman's leg 'mangled' as she's caught in elevator shaft, dragged up eight floors in Holiday horror, NY Daily News, Joe Kemp, December 26, 2010

2010 Brooklyn Elevator Injury Leads to Repairman's Indictment, NY Times, Liz Robbins, December 15, 2011

July 10, 2014

Elderly Driver in Diabetic Shock Crashes into White Plains Gas Station

A 69-year-old driver who was in diabetic shock crashed his vehicle into a gas station off of the Hutchinson River Parkway in White Plains in June 2014. The elderly man, who was incoherent at the time of the accident, was pulled from his burning car by an off-duty state trooper before it was engulfed in flames. The 69-year-old driver only suffered from minor injuries as a result of the accident, and he was taken to Westchester Medical Center. The off-duty police officer suffered from minor injuries when he was struck by a falling gas pump. The entire incident was captured by a video surveillance camera at the gas station.

gas pump.jpgJohn Vescio, the off-duty state trooper who saved the elderly man, stopped at the gas station to fill his unmarked police car at 11:00 a.m. As Vescio was fueling his vehicle, he noticed a Toyota pull into the service station at a high rate of speed. The Toyota then slammed into another vehicle and gas pump, causing a fire. Acting upon his police training, Vescio immediately pulled the elderly man from the car with the help of a bystander. The car then erupted into flames seconds later. Vescio instructed other customers at the gas station to back away from the flames because his unmarked car contained live ammunition. Although several people reported hearing several loud pops, officials from the White Plains Fire Department stated that none of the ammunition was every discharged. Southbound lanes of the Hutchinson Parkway were shut down for over an hour as a result of the accident and fire.

Discussing the incident, Vescio remarked, "It happened so quick. It was hard to think. I just pretty much reacted." State Police Captain Dominick Chiumento stated that Vescio "remained focused and committed to saving the life of the operator of the Toyota. If not for his swift response, the situation could have turned out much worse."

According to the National Institute of Health, elderly drivers can face many challenges that can affect their ability to drive safely. For instance, elderly drivers with diabetes can experience spikes in blood sugar levels while driving. These dangerous blood sugar changes can cause a driver to feel sleepy, drowsy or confused. In some cases, diabetic shock can result in seizures or even loss of consciousness while driving.

Elderly people suffering from arthritis can also face difficulties while driving. Stiff and inflamed joints can make it difficult for elderly drivers to hold the steering wheel properly. In addition, drivers with arthritis may have trouble turning their necks to view other cars or pedestrians. As a result, aging drivers should consult with their physicians to determine how their medical conditions may affect their ability to drive safely.

Website Resource: Hutch station fire: Hero trooper pulled man from flames, Richard Liebson, June 5, 2014

July 10, 2014

Five Men Wrongfully Convicted in Central Park Jogger Attack to Receive $41 Million Legal Settlement

New York City Controller Scott Stringer approved a $41 million legal settlement in June 2014 for five men who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for beating and raping a woman jogging in Central Park in 1989. Stringer stated that "this settlement is a prudent and equitable solution for all parties to the lawsuit and closes a very difficult chapter in the city's history." The settlement offers each man approximately $1 million for each year they were imprisoned and must now be approved by Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts. The suit has been in litigation for over a decade. In 2007, Batts rejected the city's motion to dismiss the case under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the city now has a "moral obligation to right this injustice" by settling the case. Under the agreement, the city is not admitting to any wrongdoing.

central park.jpgIn 1989, 28-year-old investment banker Tricia Meili, who has since written a book titled "I Am the Central Park Jogger," went for a run in Central Park. She was brutally beaten and raped and was in a coma for over six weeks. Due to her severe injuries, Meili does not remember anything about the attack. Five Hispanic and African-American teenagers, who were between 14 through 16-years-old at the time, were arrested and charged for the crime. The teenagers confessed to the brutal beating and rape, but they later retracted their statements. During two separate jury trials, the teenagers were convicted of the crime. Four of the teenagers, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray, each spent nearly seven years in prison. The remaining teenager, Kharey Wise, spent almost 13 years behind bars.

In 2002, Matia Reyes, a man serving 33 years to life for rape and murder, confessed that he was the Central Park attacker. After DNA evidence corroborated his confession, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau asked a judge to vacate the convictions of the five wrongfully accused men, who were subsequently released from prison.

After being released, the men filed a lawsuit claiming that the police and prosecutors engaged in misconduct in order to secure a conviction in the high-profile case. For instance, the men claim that the police coerced their confessions. In addition, the lawsuit states that the lead prosecutor, Elizabeth Lederer, told a jury that hair samples found on the clothing of one of the men matched the hair of the victim. The lawsuit states that this claim was untrue.

For over a decade, the Bloomberg administration fought the lawsuit on the grounds that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately in handling the case. In 2013, a spokesperson for the city's Law Department stated, "The case is not about whether the teens were wrongfully convicted. It's about whether prosecutors and police deliberately engaged in misconduct."

After taking office, Mayor de Blasio allowed the lawsuit to move forward. Speaking about the settlement, Salaam stated, "We've been waiting for 25 years for justice."

More on this story can be found in the NY Daily News and NY Times.

July 10, 2014

Settlement of Class Action Lawsuit Forces NYC to Repair Elevators Used by Disabled Tenants

elevatorbutton.jpgA class action lawsuit settled in September 2012 forced the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), a governmental agency that provides housing to low-income tenants, to repair malfunctioning and broken elevators used by disabled residents. The NYCHA operates more than 2,600 buildings throughout the city and is responsible for maintain 3,300 elevators. The class action lawsuit, which was filed in 2009, claimed that there was a "widespread and systemic failure to maintain the elevators in its buildings in operable working condition." Because many disabled tenants rely on the elevators to get to their apartments, the lawsuit stated that the city was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wilma Brito, 38, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to an electric wheelchair. Brito stated that none of the elevators in her building were working for a period of three days. On one occasion, Brito said that she was stranded outside of her building for most of the night because the elevators weren't working. Debbie Bucote, 52, suffered from a stroke which left her paralyzed on one side of her body. She is also confined to a wheelchair. After the elevators in her building broke down, she was forced to walk down 18 flights of stairs with the help of an aide so that she could get to a doctor's appointment. Phyllis Gonzalez, 61, suffers from arthritis and other health problems. She stated that she was forced to slide down 12 flights of stairs while sitting down when the elevators in her building malfunctioned. The lawsuit also pointed out cases in which tenants were trapped in elevators or had to wait in the lobby for hours at a time while the elevators were being repaired.

Although the legal settlement did not include any monetary payments, it did force the NYCHA to follow a prescribed plan to repair and maintain the elevators in order to keep them in operating condition. For instance, the settlement requires that 70 percent of elevator outages be repaired within eight hours of being reported. In addition, the average number of citywide outages cannot exceed more than one outage per elevator per month. Moreover, the NYCHAA must create a schedule to perform preventative maintenance on the elevators to ensure that they are safe to use and functioning properly. The NYCHA must also file annual reports to show compliance with the settlement's conditions. Finally, the settlement allows disabled residents to request to be moved to a lower floor so that they are not severely impacted in the event of an elevator outage.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer stated that the settlement protects the city's most vulnerable residents. He remarked, "It's about time. For far too long, NYCHA tenants with disabilities have been hostage to the Housing Authority's inability to repair, modernize or replace poorly functioning elevators."

Suit Says Faulty Elevators in Public Housing Violate Rights of Tenants, NY Times, Manny Fernandez, April 20, 2009

July 10, 2014

Woman Killed after 14-Ton Tractor Trailer with Inadequate Brakes Crashes into Ithaca Restaurant

Amanda Bush, 27, a bartender at Simeon's, a well-known bistro in Ithaca, New York, was killed in June 2014 after a large tractor trailer hauling passenger cars crashed into the restaurant. Police issued the truck's driver, 37-year-old Viacheslav Grychanyi, two traffic violations: one for having inadequate brakes, and one violation for driving an over-lengthed vehicle. Witnesses of the accident stated that the truck was going 40 to 50 mph when it slammed into the side of the building.

Police investigators stated that the truck was headed toward a pedestrian mall. In an apparent attempt to avoid hitting construction workers in the pedestrian area, the driver tried turning the truck onto a side road. However, the truck skimmed across a concrete barrier and then crashed into the restaurant located in an historic four-story building. The tractor trailer was hauling seven passenger cars at the time of the accident and is owned by Auto Star Transport, a company located in Washington.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), one in 10 highway fatalities involve large trucks. Because trucks need more time and space to stop, inadequate brakes are often a common cause of accidents involving trucks. In some cases, a truck's brakes were not adequately inspected or maintained. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), proposed a regulation that would require large trucks to have electronic stability control (ESC). ESC on large tractor trailers would serve two purposes: first, by automatically regulating braking and engine power, the technology could prevent trucks from rolling over. Second, ESC would help the driver maintain control of the truck and prevent it from skidding in the wrong direction. The NHTSA estimates that 40 to 56 percent of truck roll-overs could be prevented by ESC. In addition, the agency estimated that 14 percent of truck accidents caused by loss-of-control could be prevented by the braking technology. Overall, the NHTSA determined that ESC would prevent 2,329 truck crashes, 858 injuries, and 60 fatalities every year.

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS, applauded NHTSA's recommendations to require large trucks to have ESC. She stated, "We commend the agency for moving ahead with an ESC mandate for new truck tractors and large buses independent of its ongoing research of single unit trucks. We encourage the NHTSA to expedite this research and also to explore the feasibility of a retrofitting requirement so a bigger proportion of the fleet benefits from ESC."

It is currently unclear if the truck involved in the fatal Ithaca accident was equipped with ESC. The accident is currently under investigation by officials from the Ithaca Police Department.

For more on this story, see pressconnects.com.

July 7, 2014

Long Island Contractor Fined Over $460K for Repeated Fall and Scaffolding Violations

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the governmental agency responsible for workplace safety, fined Painting & Decorating Inc., a Ronkonkoma based painting and stucco contractor, $460,350 for chronic and repeated fall and scaffolding violations in December 2013. The Long Island company received 10 citations and fines totaling $429,600. Over the past several years, the company has received similar citations at five other worksites. The citations included failing to inspect scaffolding for defects before workers used them. In addition, the company was cited for missing planks and cross bracing on scaffolding. OHSA inspectors also noted that the company failed to provide fall protection equipment for workers and didn't adequately restrain scaffolding to prevent it from tipping.

hot construction girl.jpgIn addition, the company received five new citations and fines totally $30,690. One citation stated that the company failed to provide fall protection for workers while they were putting up scaffolding. The company also erected scaffolding on unsound footing. OSHA inspectors also observed that workers were climbing up cross bracing to access the scaffolding, and they were not wearing any eye protection. As a result of the violations, the company was placed on OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which requires more OSHA inspections.

Commenting on the citations, Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA's Long Island area director, stated, "The sizable fines proposed reflect the ongoing failure and refusal for this employer to provide basic safeguards for its employees. Workers have repeatedly been exposed to deadly and disabling falls and crushing injuries. In this case, workers were exposed to falls of more than 26 feet."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), construction workers make up seven percent of the national workforce. However, the construction industry had the second highest fatality rate of all occupations. Most of these fatalities were the result of falls. In many cases, construction workers either fell from a roof, scaffold, or ladder. In response to these fatal accidents, the CDC and OSHA announced the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction from June 2 through June 6, 2014. During this event employers were encouraged to take the time to train and talk to employees about fall hazards and safety.

While falls are the leading cause of deaths and injuries in the construction industry, companies can take three simple steps to prevent such accidents. First, employers must plan jobs with safety in mind. Companies must consider the types of safety equipment that will be needed to complete a job. Second, companies must provide workers with safety equipment, such as personal fall arrest systems. Finally, employers must train workers about how to use safety equipment and identify potential safety hazards in order to prevent dangerous falls.

July 7, 2014

Toddler Suffers Injured Hand in NYC Escalator Accident

escalator2.jpgA 21-month-old boy was injured during an escalator accident in February 2013 at a Barnes & Noble bookstore on the Upper West Side. The toddler was going down the escalator with his nanny when his hand became trapped between two steps after he tripped and fell. A store employee stated that the escalator shut off automatically, and the boy was able to free his hand from between the steps. Firefighters who responded to the accident treated the boy for a hand laceration. He was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

According to escalator safety experts, the boy didn't suffer more serious injuries because the escalator's step-upthrust safety mechanism was working properly. The mechanism detects when something becomes entrapped between an escalator's steps and automatically shuts down the escalator to prevent further injury and damage. Safety experts also pointed out the importance of holding a child's hand while riding an escalator.

There are approximately 35,000 escalators in the United State, most of which are located in commercial and public buildings. Each escalator transports 12,000 people on an annual basis. A study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined that 6,000 people are injured in escalator accidents each year. Seventy-five percent of these injuries are caused by trips and falls. Twenty-percent of these injuries are caused by entrapment, a situation in which a person's foot, hand or article of clothing becomes stuck between two stairs. In addition, the study concluded that escalator accidents result in two fatalities every year. Most of these deaths are caused by trips and falls that result in serious head trauma.

Several major escalator companies have been found liable in accidents over the past couple of years. For instance, Montgomery Escalator manufactured an escalator with faulty wiring, which caused an accident that injured 30 people. Schindler Elevator manufactured multiple escalators that contained defective parts. These parts caused numerous escalators to abruptly stop, causing people to lose their balance and fall. Over a period of one month, seven such accidents occurred in Washington, D.C. The company was also found liable in a 2009 accident that injured a three-year-old child.

One common type of escalator accident occurs when a person's foot becomes entrapped between two steps. In 2002, a 12-year-old boy suffered a major injury to his big toe after his foot became stuck between two steps. In 2003, a five-year-old girl was severely injured when her hand became stuck between two steps. As a result of the accident, part of the girl's hand and three of her fingers had to be amputated. Finally, in 2005, 71 New York City schoolchildren suffered minor injuries after the escalator they were riding on stopped abruptly and then jilted backwards, causing many children to fall.

See also the Elevator Accident Blog to read more about this incident.

July 7, 2014

Suffolk County Agrees to $200K Legal Settlement for Video Journalist Who Was Wrongfully Arrested

Members of the Suffolk County Legislature approved a $200,000 legal settlement in June 2014 after a video journalist filed a lawsuit that claimed he was wrongfully arrested for recording police activity in a public area. The settlement also states that all members of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) must be trained and tested about the public's First Amendment right to "observe, photograph and record police activity in public locations." Moreover, the SCPD must create a Police-Media Relations Committee to resolve issues between members of the media and the SCPD. High-ranking SCPD officials as well as representatives from local media outlets will serve on the committee.

cameraman.jpgOn July 30, 2011, Philip Datz, a video journalist who worked for Stringer News Service, a company that sells footage to media outlets, was recording the aftermath of a high speed police chase. He was on the sidewalk and prominently displayed his press credentials. However, Suffolk County Police Sergeant Michael Milton approached Datz and told him to "Go away." When Datz asked the officer where he should go, Milton responded, "I don't care where you go. Just go away. Go away...I want you to go away and not stand here and argue with me. Otherwise you're about to get locked up." When Datz stated that he was going to call the SCPD's Public Information Office, Milton replied, "Call the commissioner for all I care. I've been doing this for 30 years."

Datz called the Public Information Office and was told that he could record the police incident from one block away. However, after Datz resumed videotaping, Sergeant Milton approached Datz in his police cruiser, jumped out, and turned off the camera. Milton placed Datz under arrest and charged him with obstruction of governmental administration. Milton also confiscated the videotape. About a month after the arrest, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office dropped the charges against Datz. A subsequent investigation by the SCPD's Internal Affairs Bureau concluded that Milton "made a false arrest and violated Department rules and procedures."

In 2012, with the legal backing of the National Press Photographers Association and the NYCLU, Datz filed a lawsuit against the SCPD. The lawsuit stated that Datz was falsely arrested for exercising his First Amendment right to record police activity in a public area. After the suit was settled, Datz remarked, "This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good. When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it jeopardizes everyone's ability to stay informed about important news in their community."

A training video produced by the SCPD as a result of the lawsuit tells officers that "members of the media cannot be restricted from entering and/or producing recording media from areas that are open to the public, regardless of subject matter."

The Village Voice has more on this story on its website.

June 24, 2014

85-Year-Old Man's Legs Crushed in NY Elevator Accident

elevator buttons1.jpgAn 85-year-old East Harlem resident suffered from severe injuries after his legs were crushed in an elevator accident in 2012. The man was rushed to Harlem Hospital where doctors said he suffered from fractured bones in his legs and was listed in critical condition. After neighbors called 911, firefighters who responded to the accident found the man lying in the elevator's cab while his legs dangled between the first and second floors. Firefighters had to use airbags and other mechanical devices to free the elderly man. Investigators speculated that the elevator malfunctioned and began to move between floors with the doors still open, causing the 85-year-old man to fall between the gap.

The accident took place at the Wilson Houses on 105th Street, a public housing development run by the New York City Housing Authority. The housing agency is responsible for maintaining 3,300 elevators which serve approximately 400,000 residents. Tenants at the scene of the accident stated that the building's elevators are constantly malfunctioning, causing them to climb as many as 20 flights of stairs to get to their apartments.

According to Consumerwatch, there are approximately 900,000 elevators in the United States. Each elevator serves 20,000 people on an annual basis. Every year, 27 people are killed in elevator accidents. In addition, 10,200 people are injured while riding elevators. There are several main causes of these accidents. First, many accidents are caused by pulley system malfunctions. When a pulley system fails, an elevator usually drops rapidly and suddenly, usually resulting in the elevator impacting the ground floor at a high rate of speed. Another common malfunction occurs when an elevator's doors fail to close. As a result, people can fall down the elevator shaft or become crushed between the shaft walls and the elevator. In addition, faulty wiring can cause electrocutions. Moreover, when an elevator fails to properly align with the floor, people can suffer injuries associated with trips and falls. Many elevator accidents are often caused by lack of proper maintenance or repairs, which are sometimes made by unqualified personnel.

Over the past several years, several elevator manufacturers and maintenance companies have been responsible for various elevator accidents. For example, Abel Elevator made an elevator that contained faulty brakes which resulted in the death of a college student when the elevator crashed into the ground floor. Schindler Elevator manufactured an elevator that dropped suddenly and rapidly; the accident seriously hurt a woman who suffered from a long-term back injury. Otis Elevator manufactured a defective door detractor which causes elevator doors to open when they shouldn't. Such a defect can lead to serious trips and falls when an elevator is misaligned with the floor. In addition, open elevator doors can lead to deadly falls down an elevator shaft.

Website Resource: Elevator Accident Blog

ABC News

June 23, 2014

NY Cardiologist Charged with DWI after Car Crash Kills Mother of Three

Thomas Stavola, a 54-year-old cardiologist, was arrested and charged with a DWI in June 2014 after he crashed into a vehicle driven by Monica Peterman, a 45-year-old mother of three. Peterman was taken by ambulance to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. Stavola was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was treated for minor injuries.

er1.jpgAccording to police officials, Peterman worked as a dialysis technician at St. Catherine of Siena, the same hospital where she was taken after her fatal accident. While heading to work at 4:00 a.m., Peterman was traveling westbound on East Main Street in Smithtown. Stavola, a cardiologist at Stony Brook Community Medical P.C., was traveling north on Route 111 when he hit the driver's side of Peterman's vehicle at an intersection. Police arrested Stavola and charged him with DWI.

Peterman's family members stated that she was very close to receiving her nursing degree. Bryan Greaves, 25, one of Peter's three sons, remarked, "My mother, she enjoyed helping people. Whether it was on the job or outside of the job, she just helped everyone." Besides her three sons, Peterman also left behind a husband.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), alcohol-related car crashes are responsible for one-third of all vehicle fatalities each year. In 2010, alcohol-related car crashes accounted for 10,600 deaths. Most DWI deaths occurred at nights and on weekends, with seven percent of such fatalities coming at the hands of a driver with a prior DWI conviction. An IIHS study revealed that drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher were more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. For instance, drivers ages 16 through 20 who have a BAC of .08 or higher are 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash; drivers ages 21 through 34 with a BAC of .08 or higher are seven times more likely to be involved in a deadly accident, and drivers ages 35 and over are six times more likely to be in a fatal accident if their BAC is .08 or higher.

While drunk driving is a problem, the number of drunk driving fatalities has actually deceased over the past few decades. In 1982, 50 percent of all car crash deaths were caused by DWIs. An ongoing study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that the number of drunk drivers on the road has decreased steadily over a long period of time. In 1973, 7.5 percent of all drivers had a BAC of .08 or higher. In 1986, that number reduced to 5.4 percent; in 2002, only 2.2 percent of drivers had a BAC of .08 or higher. Researchers attribute this steady decline to highly publicized enforcement of tougher DWI laws.

Long Island Man Arrested On Drunk Driving Charge In Fatal Smithtown Crash

Police: Middle Island woman dies in crash with drunken driver, NY Newsday, Ted Phillips and Mackenzie Issler, June 14, 2014

June 23, 2014

Suffolk County DA Calls Upon Albany to Toughen Sentencing for Hit-and-Runs

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota called upon Albany lawmakers in June 2014 to toughen the penalties for hit-and-run drivers. Spota stated that many drivers who are drunk or impaired by drugs often flee the scene of accidents because they know that hit-and-run penalties are not as severe as sentences for DWI charges. Spota remarked, "A drunk or drug impaired driver who kills someone may face up to 25 years in prison. But fleeing the accident scene allows the wrongdoer a chance to sober up, and under the current law, any driver guilty of a hit-and-run faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years--even when someone dies or even if the defendant has a prior felony record."

gavel2.jpgSpota's remarks came the day before an Eastport man, Peter Torrillo, a married 48-year-old man with four children, received a sentence of 28 months to seven years after leaving the scene of an accident that killed a young mother and seriously injured her passenger. On November 2, 2013, Torrillo was driving on Montauk Highway in Eastport when he hit Erika Strebel, 27, and Edward Barton, 26. Strebel and Burton were pulled over on the side of the road to fill up their jeep which had run out of gas. Strebel, a mother of a 5-year-old boy, was rushed to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. Burton was airlifted to another hospital for sustaining serious injuries that have left him in a wheelchair.

According to prosecutors, Torrillo, who was convicted of driving while ability impaired in 2012, knowingly fled the scene of the fatal accident. When Torrillo got home, he showered, shaved and headed back out to a local bar. While driving to the bar, Torrillo passed the scene of the accident. The next day, he took his car to a repair shop in Queens in an attempt to cover up the crime. Relying on a witness who saw Torrillo flee the scene, investigators were able to match paint chips left at the accident with paint on Torrillo's repaired car. Three weeks after the accident, he was arrested and charged with a fatal hit-and-run.

Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli stated that police investigators believe that Torrillo was impaired at the time of the accident and fled the scene in order to avoid harsher penalties. Borelli stated, "It is that belief that someone takes off essentially because they are drunk or high. Just like this--you know, this guy had a prior impaired conviction for driving while impaired by drugs."

While reading a victim impact statement at Torrillo's sentencing, Tammy Barton, Edward Barton's sister-in-law, stated that Strebel's death has had a profound impact on Strebel's young son Ayden. On Mother's Day, she brought the boy to visit his mother's grave. The boy laid down at the foot of his mother's tombstone and began talking to her. Barton looked over at Turrillo and remarked, "Picture this, Peter, okay? I hope you have this image in your head, because it's burned into mine."

Website Resource: L.I. Man Sentenced For Hit-And-Run Crash That Killed Young Mother, CBS News

Maximum Sentence For Driver In Fatal Eastport Hit-And-Run Accident, The Southampton Press, Kyle Campbell, June 10, 2014

June 23, 2014

NY Jury Finds Young Driver Guilty of Vehicular Manslaughter in Car Crash that Killed Four Teenagers

A Nassau County jury convicted Joseph Beer, 19, of four counts of vehicular manslaughter in June 2014 for a 2012 car crash that left four of Beer's friends dead. Beer, who admitted to smoking marijuana before speeding over 100 mph on the Southern State Parkway, was also found guilty of reckless driving and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors. Beer now faces five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced for the fatal accident. Jurors were not able to reach a verdict on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a sentence of up to 25 years behind bars. In addition, after deliberating for four days, jurors, were also deadlocked on charges for manslaughter, driving without a license, and driving while ability impaired by drugs. Nassau County Judge David Sullivan declared a mistrial on these charges. District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated that she would decide "shortly" on whether or not to retry the case.

In October 2012, Beer, who was only 17 at the time, was driving 110 mph with four friends in his vehicle when he smashed into a tree, causing the car to rip into two pieces. While Beer only suffered from minor injuries, his four friends, ages 17 through 18, were pronounced dead on the scene.

Prosecutors claimed that a combination of "speed and weed" caused the fatal accident. However, an expert witness from the Yale School of Medicine appeared to have cast some doubts as to whether Beer was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash. The expert testified that the amount of marijuana in Beer's system wasn't an adequate way to determine if Beer was impaired at the time of the accident because he was a chronic marijuana user. Beer's attorney stated that the jury's deadlocked decision on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide showed that the jurors didn't believe his client was impaired at the time of the crash.

DA Rice stated that she believes Beer was impaired at the time of the accident. She remarked, "To what extent that [marijuana use] impairs your ability to operate a car, I think common sense dictates that it does impair your ability to operate a motor vehicle at normal speeds, much less when you're driving 110 mph at night in a very fast car." She also stated that she will reject the defense's request to seek youthful offender status for Beer, which would lower his sentence to a maximum of four years in prison.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can impair a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle. The Institute states, "Considerable evidence from both real and simulated driving studies indicates that marijuana can negatively affect a driver's attentiveness, perception of time and speed, and ability to draw on information obtained from past experiences." In an extensive study conducted from 2001 through 2006, 14.1 percent of high school seniors stated that they had driven under the influence of marijuana over the preceding two weeks.

More on this story can be found in Newsday and the Star Tribune.

June 23, 2014

NY Lawmaker Urges DOT to Require Trucking Companies to Install Black Boxes to Prevent Overworked and Tired Drivers from Hitting the Road

U.S. State Senator Charles Schumer called upon the Department of Transportation in June 2014 to require that trucking companies install electronic monitoring devices in all trucks to accurately record the number of hours a driver has been on the road. Schumer stated that such a measure would prevent trucking accidents caused by overworked and tired drivers. Currently regulations prevent truck drivers from working more than a certain number of hours and require truckers to take breaks. Under these existing regulations, drivers record the number of hours they drive in handwritten logbooks which can be easily falsified. According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), one-third of truck drivers admitted to falsifying their logbooks, which are often referred to in the trucking industry as "comic books" because they are often doctored. Electronic monitoring devices, which are already in use in many European countries, are difficult to tamper with and accurately log how many hours a trucker has driven.

truck accident.jpgIn 2012, trucks were involved in 333,000 accidents. Trucking crashes resulted in 3,921 fatalities during the same time period and were responsible for 104,000 injuries. One in 10 highway deaths involved a large truck. An IIHS study revealed that truckers who drive more than eight hours per day are twice as likely to be involved in an accident. Commenting on these statistics, Senator Schumer remarked, "Each year, thousands of people are hurt and even killed in truck crashes in part due to overworked and fatigued drivers who shouldn't be on the road."

Regulations and laws enacted in 2004 require that truckers only drive 60 hours over a period of seven days. However, a "restart" measure allows drivers to get back on the road after being off for 34 hours. Drivers can only "restart" once per week. In addition, drivers must take a 10 hour break after driving for 11 hours; moreover, drivers are required to take a 30 minute break after driving for eight hours. In 2010, the federal government issued a ruling requiring trucking companies to install electronic monitoring devices in tractor trailers. Truckers contested this regulation in court because they feared companies would use such devices to harass drivers. A court ruled in the truckers' favor. In March 2014, the federal government proposed a measure that would prohibit such harassment, but it has yet to become enacted and enforced.

Ann McCartt, the IIHS vice president for research, stated that electronic monitoring devices are the only effective way to enforce laws regulating how long truckers can drive during a certain time period. She remarked, "Studies show that fatigue is a significant factor in truck crashes...Without electronic recorders the rule can't be enforced effectively."

Schumer's call upon the DOT to require such regulations comes in response to a June 2014 trucking accident that severely injured actor and comedian Tracy Morgan. Crash investigators stated that the truck driver had not slept in 24 hours.