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Open cellar door leads to gruesome fall

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An 88-year-old woman got more than she bargained for when she entered a 99-cent store on Thursday, May 13.

Carmela Purcell, of Mayflower Avenue, was in the back of a Pelham Bay store looking at paper dishes, when she took a step that sent her through a cellar door left open right in the middle of the selling floor. Witness Gladys Garibaldi could only watch in horror as Purcell tumbled all the way down the wooden staircase. Garibaldi says that worst of all, she had already noticed the open door and thought it looked dangerous.

“I said to myself, oops! Look at that open door. And I backed up, away from it. As I turned around, I felt something behind me; it happened to be Carmela. I went to grab her, but I wasn’t fast enough, and down she went.”

Purcell was eventually helped upstairs by Garibaldi and EMT responders. The stairs, according to witnesses, were slicked in blood. An ambulance took Purcell to Jacobi Hospital, though it was against the wishes of her son Anthony, who asked that they bring her to Westchester Square Hospital, where she knows the doctors. She got three stitches on her temple and was monitored for two days.

Though she feels lucky to even be alive, Purcell can’t help but moan about the pain now besetting her: “I gotta go for more tests,” she says. “When I eat, I get pains in my stomach.”

Purcell’s sister, Josephine Martino, confirms that Purcell’s body “looks like a plum” with all the black and blue marks, and that Purcell has developed memory loss and a hernia as a result of the accident. This week, doctors will take a special look at her colon, which may be damaged. “I wish I’d have fallen through that door,” says Garibaldi, “because I would’ve sued their pants off.” Purcell is indeed pursuing legal action, though she has yet to officially file a suit. Her son is handling everything with lawyers.

“Who leaves that door open?” demands Martino, who actually lives directly above the store and was inside when her sister fell. After she heard screaming, she came running, and went berserk. “She was hysterical,” says another witness, named Rebecca. “It was bad enough the sister was down in the cellar, hurt who knows how bad, but she [Martino] kept yelling, it was all very awful.”

“When you’re shopping, you’re looking at the shelves, not down at the floor,” says Martino. “Leave that thing open, anyone could go flying down there, what if it had been a pregnant woman?” Martino says that even though days have passed, she and her sister are still afraid just to recall the incident. They cry often, and Martino has trouble convincing Purcell to eat meals.

The store where it all happened is called Fortune 99¢ and sits at 3005 Westchester Avenue. Both Garibaldi and Rebecca confirm that there were two employees working at the time: a tall, skinny man and a younger girl. Both say that employees were slow to come over, but expressed concern once they did see what had happened. One week later, the female employee who had been working on the fateful day would only say, “We feel bad for her.” Pressed further, she admitted: “We don’t want to say anything else. We already told the insurance everything they wanted to know.”

Whatever ends up happening with the legal measures, Martino is still shaken, and has resolved one change on her sister’s behalf: “We’re not going there anymore.”

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