The cars wobbled erratically, tenants said, and often stopped between floors. Occasionally, the doors would not fully shut, and would need to be manually closed. And sometimes they failed to open at all.
On Thursday morning, residents’ worst fears came true when Samuel C. Waisbren, 30, who lived in the building, was crushed to death after the elevator dropped suddenly as he was exiting into the lobby. Three other people inside the car, who witnessed the tragedy unfold, were rescued and physically uninjured, the Fire Department said.
Charles Waisbren, the victim’s father, said his son had complained often about the elevators. “It was a point of constant consternation,” Waisbren said.
“It’s such an expensive apartment building, they can at least provide a safe environment and instead they killed my son,” he said.
In a city with more than 70,000 elevators, the most in the country, fatal accidents are rare. But residents at the Manhattan Promenade, a 23-story luxury tower in the Kips Bay neighborhood in Manhattan, said they had long voiced concerns to the landlord about the elevators. Residents said they were accustomed to them being out of order and were often kept in the dark about their conditions.
A building employee said security footage from the lobby recorded the fatal accident. The video showed the elevator stopping shortly before 8:30 a.m. on the first floor and two people stepping out, said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
As the door started to close and the elevator descended, Waisbren put out his hand to try to stop the door from closing. But the elevator kept going down — and that’s when he tried to rush through the door and got caught.
“Like jumping out of a car if it’s still moving,” the building employee said.
Around 11 a.m., a black body bag was wheeled on a stretcher out of the building and loaded into the back of a medical examiner’s van.
Charles Waisbren said his son moved to New York about five years ago. He shared an apartment with his girlfriend and worked in sales for a software company, CB Insights.
“He was a classic story of a Midwest boy seeking fame and fortune in New York,” Waisbren said. “He had his whole life ahead of him.”
The chief executive of CB Insights, Anand Sanwal, said the company was “shocked and stunned” by his death. “Sam was a great friend to many at CB Insights, and his wit, humor and intellect will be missed,” Sanwal said in a statement.
The Manhattan Promenade, a building with 183 apartments at 344 Third Ave., has two elevators for tenants. In May, the city’s Department of Buildings fined the building nearly $1,300 after inspectors found that a safety feature on one of the elevators had been disabled or tampered with.
The building was ordered on May 29 to stop using that elevator until it was fixed. City inspectors approved a repair on it on May 31 and allowed it operate again. But the violation remained open as of Thursday because the landlord had not paid the fine.
Tenants said Thursday that they had not been told about the faulty elevator and that it was not operating Wednesday, when it was shut down and roped off with yellow cones after a resident got stuck in it.
ATA Enterprises, which manages the building, did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment. A nearby apartment building operated by same company, at 220 E. 25th St., has also received citations for unsafe elevator conditions, including for uneven doors.
Building investigators at the scene Thursday determined that Waisbren had been riding the second elevator and not the one subject to a fine.
“DOB is investigating this incident aggressively and will take all appropriate enforcement actions,” Abigail Kunitz, a spokeswoman at the Department of Buildings, said in a statement.
The building’s management company was issued a work permit a month ago to an elevator repair company to fix wiring on both elevators, according to city records. The city was looking into that permit Thursday, including what repairs it entailed, and whether that work had been completed.
The repair company, American Elevator & Machine Corp., could not be reached for comment. City inspectors also remained at the building Thursday evening to oversee repairs on the second elevator and to make sure it was safe for residents to use again.
The safety feature in the elevator that had been disabled or tampered with, known as a door zone restrictor, prevents a door from opening more than a few inches when an elevator is between floors.
Tenants said it was not uncommon to leave their apartments in the morning and find handwritten notes on an elevator car saying it was out of order. In 2017, ATA Enterprises apologized to residents in an email about recurring elevator problems.
But the conditions got worse this year, said Heidi Middlemas, who has lived there for seven years. She said she saw the building superintendent rescue a trapped woman in one of the elevators a few months ago.
“It began getting progressively worse this spring,” Middlemas said.
Another building resident, Alex, 25, who declined to give his last name, said the elevators were prone to malfunction, often jerking around with riders in it. “We saw the warning signs,” Alex said. “The thing breaks all the time. It’s pretty bad.”
On one occasion, he said, he had to pull the elevator’s single, sliding door shut by hand to seal himself inside. “The door won’t close all the way,” he said.
Another resident, a young woman who was exiting the building and declined to give her name, compared the elevator to a scary Halloween-style amusement park ride.
“It’s out all the time. I’ve been stuck inside the elevator before,” the woman said. “It’s super scary, they always jump between floors.”
Dayna Sargen, who lives on the eighth floor with her husband and children, said she spent the morning crying after learning what happened.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable putting my kids in an elevator here again,” she said. “The elevators are constantly breaking down, there are very, very frequent maintenance issues with the elevator.”
Her husband, Peter Sargen, said that within the past few days he was riding one of the elevators and felt it “wobbling” so much that he reported it to the building’s staff.
While rare, elevator accidents in the city have occurred on occasion. In 2011, a 44-year-old advertising executive was killed after she became pinned between the elevator and the wall of a Midtown office building. In 2016, a 25-year-old man was crushed to death in an elevator on the Lower East Side.
The New York state Legislature passed a bill in June that would raise licensing standards for people who work on elevators and also create a state Elevator Safety and Standards Board. While the Assembly and Senate approved the measure, it has not been delivered to the governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, for approval.
The senator who sponsored the bill, Diane J. Savino of Staten Island, said the accident Thursday underscored the need to improve elevator safety.
“New York has more elevators than any city in the country, and yet we are 20 years behind in developing a standard for contractors and people who work on them,” Savino, a Democrat, said Thursday. “As a result, people who use them are at risk.”
By Thursday night, the other elevator at the Manhattan Promenade apartment building, the one that had been flagged by the Department of Buildings, was fully operational again. Some residents were using it.
But one resident walked into the building in tears. She took the stairs.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.