Three years ago, at 4:05 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Olegario Pabon stepped into an elevator at his Bronx NYCHA development and lost his life. The lift jerked upwards, trapping the 84-year-old’s leg and hand and then dropping him on his head.
Now a trio of NYCHA elevator division workers — including a top supervisor — are expected to be hit with charges of falsification of records resulting from the investigation of that tragic fatal accident, the Daily News has learned.
On Wednesday, the ex-elevator administrator in charge of the Bronx at the time of Pabon’s death, an ex-elevator unit staffer and one still in the unit are set to surrender to law enforcement to face criminal charges, sources told The News. The administrator was, at the time, one of the top managers overseeing NYCHA’s 3,314 elevators in a system where breakdowns are a daily occurrence.
The unusual charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. stem from a city Department of Investigation probe of the circumstances surrounding Pabon’s death. In an April 2016 report, DOI detailed a series of communications breakdowns, the possible tampering of a brake monitor in the lift, and a pattern of problems in the elevator unit.
At the time, DOI recommended 14 reforms that NYCHA agreed to implement.
On Tuesday, DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi declined to comment on the charges. NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake emphasized that all the recommended reforms have been put in place:
“The Authority has cooperated fully with DOI’s investigation, including implementing their recommendations. We’ve put new actions in place to ensure every elevator is properly inspected and that results are double-checked, including improved brake monitoring procedures, broader staff training and more specific work order review by supervisors. We look forward to our continued work with DOI as we strive to improve services for our residents,” Blake said.
The elevator administrator facing criminal liability was interviewed by DOI shortly after the incident and at the time claimed he had been unaware of problems with the faulty elevator at the Boston Road Houses in Allerton until DOI brought it up. He also acknowledged that the brake monitor had been tampered with..
Investigating Pabon’s death, DOI discovered a tenant had called in a complaint about the elevator an hour and a half before the 84-year-old stepped inside it. The tenant said that the lift was “going up and down by itself” with its door open — and when the door closed “it slams really hard.”
No inspectors were sent to check it out.
And when DOI inspected the elevator after Pabon’s death, they discovered that some had disabled a device called the “brake monitor” that slows the lift automatically if it goes too fast.
DOI speculated that a NYCHA elevator mechanic had clipped the wires on the device and closed off the electrical connection by covering it with black electrical tape.
The report quoted NYCHA elevator mechanics as stating that brake monitors “definitely can cause issues” by shutting down elevator because the devices are “very sensitive.”
Brake monitors in an additional 80 NYCHA elevators were also not functioning, DOI’s probe discovered.
A closing memo signed by Ralph Iannuzzi, DOI’s inspector general for NYCHA, recommended “appropriate disciplinary action” against 10 NYCHA employees. All received some form of punishment.