Councilmen Torres and Vacca question NYCHA on Boston Road Plaza elevator tragedy

An elevator accident that claimed the life of an elderly man at 2440 Boston Road was a topic of discussion at a New York City Council Public Housing committee hearing.
Commuity News Group / Patrick Rocchio

Questions continue to arise about the tragic death of an elderly man in a NYCHA senior housing complex in Allerton.

The death of Olegario Pabon in a tragic elevator accident at Boston Road Plaza on Christmas Eve 2015 was the subject of a hearing at City Hall on Thursday, April 21.

The hearing included testimony at the council’s public housing committee from Michael Kelly, New York City Housing Authority general manager, and agency officials.

In his testimony, Kelly cited Department of Investigation findings released recently and said that the accident was a result of equipment failures, communication failures and “a fractured culture or a dismissive way of thinking by some.”

“When faced with an elevator hazard that posed a serious risk, members of the Boston Road reported to DOI things like ‘it’s not my job’ and ‘I just wanted to go home,’” said Kelly. “These casual references tap into an indifference that undermines every aspect of what we are trying to change at NYCHA. This is unacceptable.”

The general manager said that NYCHA couldn’t afford a culture of indifference and spoke about another lift accident at the Morris Houses that broke an elderly man’s foot in December 2015, according to published reports.

NYCHA recently transferred five employees who had knowledge of the incident, and relieved the head of its elevator division of his duties, according to the agency.

Councilman James Vacca, who questioned NYCHA officials at the hearing, said that he found the testimony alarming.

“What I heard yesterday was an admission of…massive neglect,” said the councilman, who added that he had never seen an agency come up front with such a statement.

The councilman gave no quarter to agency employees who don’t take risks seriously.

“NYCHA needs to start firing people who are not doing their jobs,” said Vacca, who said he believes the agency may have to “clean house” as necessary.

The chairman of the public housing committee, Councilman Ritchie Torres, said that hearing generated more questions than answers and that he too was alarmed by the testimony.

Torres said he saw the hearing as an attempt by NYCHA to make the issue largely a personnel problem.

“In fact, it goes far beyond personnel,” said Torres. “It is a systemic problem, a policy problem.”

Councilman Torres said that his primary concern was ensuring that there was policy and training when it came to elevator break monitors and other similar issues, like making sure the agency kept up with regulations on lifts.

The DOI report concluded that a break monitor was not functioning when Pabon died.

Vacca continued to call for live-in superintendents at two buildings in his district, including Boston Road Plaza and Middletown Plaza, a measure he believes would result in better service for tenants.

In a statement, a spokesman for NYCHA said that the agency is considering resident supers for its senior housing development.

“Separately, NYCHA is currently exploring the possibility of live-in staff, including superintendents in senior buildings as a way to better meet the needs of our senior residents,” stated the spokesman.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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