Volume 16 • Issue 36 | February 06 - 12, 2004

Family of shock victim to sue Con Ed and police

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Bob Arihood

Bob Arihood, the East Village photographer who took this photo of the fatal E. 11th St. Con Ed junction box, worked for many years in construction during which he did electrical work. Arihood’s assessment of the box’s wiring: “It’s sloppy workmanship — there’s no doubt about that. It’s a rats’ nest.” The two large wires in the middle of the box were sealed with shrink-fit tips by Con Ed workers after Lane’s death; the wires had had corroded tips and one of them had electrified the box. The box also contains silt, filtered in from the street, water — even a “BBQ” potato chip bag. “There’s a lot of detritus. These boxes should be drained; they should not be filled with silt,” said Arihood. The photo was taken about 20 minutes after Lane was taken by ambulance to Beth Israel Hospital.

As more details emerged about the tragic death of Jodie Lane, the 30-year-old East Village woman who was electrocuted after coming in contact with an electrified Con Edison junction box cover on Jan. 16, there are reports Lane’s family intends to file a lawsuit against not only Con Ed — but also the New York City Police Department for police officers’ failure to get Lane off the lethal plate.

According to witnesses, Lane was left lying on the surface for about 20 minutes. According to Police Department and Fire Department records, there was a 12-minute period between when police arrived at the scene and when Emergency Medical Service technicians arrived. After a police officer was shocked trying to assist Lane, police kept everyone else away from her until E.M.S. arrived.

Lane had been walking her dogs on E. 11th St. near First Ave. shortly after 6 p.m. when they came in contact with the metal cover and starting acting frantically, one biting the other. Trying to separate them, she came in contact with the cover herself, and apparently overcome by the electricity, fell down on her back on top of it.

Reached for comment in Austin, Tex., Lane’s father, Roger M. Lane, asked if he thought police could have done more to save his daughter, said, “I think, right now, the family really doesn’t have any comment. We were in New York last week. We just got back. We’re just really starting this mourning process.”

However, two local sources confirmed a lawsuit is planned. A man named Kurt, an architect from Germany, whose last name isn’t known, will reportedly be a main witness for the family.

“He can’t talk. He was there for the whole thing,” said Greg Komar, a dog-walker. “They’re going to sue the Police Department and Con Ed. They already told him that he is a witness. He’s not talking about Jodie,” Komar said. “You ask him about Jodie, he’ll talk about the dogs.”

Garrett Rosso, a co-manager of the Tompkins Sq. Dog Run, also said Kurt is planned to be a witness for the family.

“He talked to the family lawyers and they told him not to talk to anyone,” Rosso said. “He said there was going to be a suit.”

Rosso said that he’s since spoken to three people who were at the scene of the incident for all or part of the time — Kurt, Eric Miranda and Rick Perner — who have filled in the picture of what happened to Lane.

According to Rosso, Kurt came to Lane’s aid when he saw her struggling to separate her dogs, which were acting wildly, with one snapping at the other. He picked up one dog and took it across the sidewalk, setting it down next to the wall by Veniero’s pastry shop. Lane got the other dog up onto the sidewalk, putting it near the curb to keep it separated from the other dog. According to Rosso, both dogs were bloody.

“Kurt said she dropped the leash, told the dog to ‘stay’ and went across the sidewalk to see what was happening to the other dog,” Rosso said. “Then she went back to get the dog by the curb. Kurt was looking down at the dog that was by him. As she reached back to pick up the leash, Kurt heard her say, ‘I know what was happening…’ The second he looked up, she was on the ground.”

Rosso said he heard that Lane was “out cold” and “foaming at the mouth.” He said Kurt and Perner felt terrible, asking themselves why they hadn’t done more to help.

However, should police, — as opposed to civilians — as trained first-responders, been able to do more to help Lane? According to police, a female Ninth Precinct officer was shocked, feeling a surge through her body, when she touched Lane. The officer was removed to Bellevue Hospital and held overnight for observation. Police are not releasing the officer’s name.

Jacob King, the cashier at Veniero’s, also said he saw police officers try to check Lane’s pulse, though only found out that an officer had been shocked when he read about it in the Post the following day.

“Kurt told me at one point he was getting shocked too” when he was trying to help Lane, Rosso said.

Deputy Inspector James McCarthy, commanding officer of the Ninth Precinct, said in an interview that officers who arrived at the scene didn’t know what was going on at first.

“You could tell by the way, when units first showed up. They didn’t know — all they kept saying was, ‘Put a rush on the bus,’ ” McCarthy said, using a police term for “ambulance.” “I think they felt that they had someone who wasn’t breathing. But I don’t think they knew exactly what was going on — there were dogs fighting…. I don’t think anyone understood what was going on at first. The officer tried to help her and was electrocuted. That’s when we knew we had a very unsafe condition, and the last thing we wanted was for more people to suffer more casualties.

“We didn’t know the extent — whether it was that little grating you couldn’t see, covered with ice and water, or whether it was the whole block,” McCarthy said. Police shut down the block from First Ave. to Second Ave., trying to get everyone off the street.

McCarthy said the female officer who was shocked is now on light duty — the shock caused her to have an irregular heartbeat, and her condition is being monitored. He said officers who responded to the scene are still shaken up. He went to the hospital where he offered support to Lane’s boyfriend.

McCarthy — who arrived at the scene right after Lane was put in the ambulance — said police did the best they could under the circumstances.

“The bottom line — you can play Monday morning quarterback,” he said. “We had an unsafe condition — we didn’t know what we had.”

He said that it was only when, after he had returned to the scene from the hospital and Con Edison had shown up to fix the box, that he realized what the problem really was and that it was confined to that spot.

“It’s nothing that I’ve experienced in my 20 years in the Police Department. It’s nothing that I want to experience again,” McCarthy said. “You’re talking about a girl that’s 30 years old and had everything ahead of her. It was a tragic, tragic accident.”

Police spokespersons said that cadets at the Police Academy receive no training on how to save people who are being electrocuted.

“There is no training for such an event like that. You have to act on instinct,” said Detective Kevin Czartoryski, adding such incidents are treated on “a case-by-case basis.”

“A female officer tried to help and got hurt,” he added. “You don’t keep sending people in to get injured. We’re not electricians.”

However, asked if Lane was still alive while lying on the junction box cover, Lieutenant Brian Burke, another police spokesperson, said, “As far as I know, she was still alive when E.M.S. arrived.”

Asked if Lane was conscious, Burke said, “When she was on the plate, I believe one officer who observed her said she was foaming at the mouth — but she was not responsive at that time.”

Burke said the female officer was shocked when trying to take Lane’s pulse and at that point officers realized Lane had somehow been electrocuted.

Lane was pronounced dead on arrival at Beth Israel Hospital 22 minutes after an E.M.S. ambulance arrived at the scene.

David Billig, a Fire Department spokesperson, said, “From what I can tell, she was removed from the scene in cardiac arrest. ‘Cardiac arrest’ means you’re clinically dead — you have no heartbeat and you’re not breathing.”

The emergency medical technicians put a plastic body board on the plate to walk on top of to get to her, so they wouldn’t get shocked.

Billig said once the technicians determined Lane had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (C.P.R.) was performed on Lane while she was removed from the scene.

“She was in cardiac arrest — we consider that a viable patient,” he said.

Complicating the initial response was the fact that the emergency calls gave vague and conflicting reports, including a “shooting,” an “unconscious person,” “a woman being attacked by a dog” and “other.”

Eric Miranda, 35, a songwriter and dog-walker who had chatted with Lane on the sidewalk just before the incident, arrived at the scene after Lane had fallen down. He tried to help her but police prevented him. Miranda feels police didn’t do enough to assist her.

“They threatened to put me in handcuffs if I tried to help her,” Miranda said. “A monkey could get a person off a metal plate. You learn this in third grade — rubber’s not a conductor; wood — a wooden broom’s not a conductor; or a police stick; just like every restaurant, Veniero’s has rubber kitchen mats…a spare tire; a scarf wrapped around her foot…. Did nobody think to get her off? The police did nothing.

“One estimate is it took 22 minutes to get her off there,” he said, “and that’s too long.”



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