Volume 74, Number 52 | May 04 - 10 , 2005

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

Above, Councilmember Lopez and Lane’s family members and fiancé pull off the wrapper to unveil the new sign. Bottom, Lopez beneath the new sign.

A sign to always remember what happened to Jodie Lane

By Lincoln Anderson

“In the name of Jodie — 1, 2, 3!” said Councilmember Margarita Lopez and they all gave a few firm tugs on the string and the paper wrapper slipped off the new sign.

“The name of Jodie Lane is going to be there forever for Con Ed to remember what they did — that they didn’t care about the residents of New York City — and for it not to happen again,” proclaimed Lopez.

They were gathered, the family members and former fiancé of Jodie Lane, to dedicate the new honorary street sign for Jodie Lane Place at the northwest corner of 11th St. and First Ave. Lane, 30, died Jan. 16, 2004, near the spot when she was electrocuted on a slush-covered Con Edison junction box while walking her dogs.

The ceremony included Roger Lane, her father, and his wife, Jill, who came from Texas; her mother, Karen, who came from Maine; her fiancé, Alex Wilbourne, with whom Jodie Lane had lived with their two dogs across from the school on E. 12th St. just a block away; and her brother, Jacob, who lives in New York City.

Privately, after the unveiling, Lopez gathered the family members around and said she felt Con Edison “should have been prosecuted criminally” for Lane’s death.

Wilbourne, 31, personally led the campaign for the street co-naming. Perched on the corner he collected almost 3,000 petition signatures in less than two weeks — standing just a few steps away from where Jodie had died after coming out of Veniero’s.

“She loved the sweets there,” he said.

“I felt like I was giving her something,” he said, “but spending weeks talking about it in the community, I realized it was so much more than me.” People shared with him their newfound terror about walking on metal plates on the street and their outrage over what had happened, he said.

While the sign is important for him, he said, it doesn’t replace the loss.

“Yes, I’ll always be able to come back to Jodie Lane Place,” Wilbourne said, gazing up at the new sign. “But the city killed her, quite literally. It’s a part of city history now. I just hope there are multiple Con Ed employees that walk past this place to get to [their headquarters building in] Union Sq.”

He said when he’d gone before Community Board 3 — by chance on her birthday — to make his pitch for their support for the street co-naming, he realized it was an “unorthodox naming.” Jodie Lane wasn’t the sort of person who usually gets a street sign: she wasn’t a hero in the usual sense — like a police officer or firefighter who fell in the line of duty — or a poet or a musician. But the outpouring of support was tremendous.

Wilbourne and Lane had met walking dogs in Battery Park City, but found it “too much like a suburb of Manhattan,” he said. “We wanted to move into a place with a neighborhood feel.” They both liked the culture and diversity of the East Village, of “different socioeconomic status side by side,” he said.

Her mother, Karen, said Jodie was raised as “country girl eating blueberries” but really took to New York City.

“She loved the city, its different cultures and people,” she said. “I couldn’t take the city out of her. She was feisty and fierce. She needed the energy.”

“She’s become a part of the history of the city of New York,” Jodie’s father, Roger, said of the new sign. “That would tickle her. To Con Ed, it will be a reminder they have more work to do. As for the family — long after we’re gone, people will wonder, ‘Who was Jodie Lane and why did this happen?’ ”

Although no lawsuit was filed, Con Ed and Lane’s family reached a $7.2 million settlement. As part of the settlement, Con Ed will donate $1 million over the next four years to Columbia University for clinical psychology studies. Jodie Lane had been a therapist and was completing her graduate studies’ internship at Columbia for clinical psychology. Also, two experts — one picked by Roger Lane, one by Con Ed — will regularly review the utility’s progress in increasing safety of its street fixtures and report back to the Jodie Lane Safety Foundation. The family also received a cash settlement.

Thanks to Lopez, who pushed for new legislation, Con Ed must inspect all its street structures annually, fixing stray voltage wherever it is found. Nevertheless, in Roger Lane’s view, nothing’s really changed in terms of safety on the streets.

“I believe Jodie was the first person to die in Manhattan like this — but she won’t be the last,” he said. “The only reason more people aren’t injured is because people have shoes with rubber or insulated soles.”

The only warning system that stray voltage is leaking from a street fixture or lamppost, he said, is if a person or dog — “like a canary in a coalmine” — gets hurt. Some system should be created, maybe a light or a sound, to indicate when voltage is leaking, and the utilities should automatically shut off at those locations — the way a circuit breaker protects a house — he suggested.

But Con Ed’s policy is “lights over life,” Roger Lane charged. “We think it should be life over lights.”

Something he also strongly advocates is that the city’s police get the training needed to save someone who is being shocked.

“I believe that the training for electrical incidents like this should be a vital part of police training in the city,” he said. “E.M.S. came, and in seconds they put down a plastic body board and got her off right away. Had that been done 11 or 12 minutes earlier, Jodie would be standing here talking about this.”

Police tried to assist Jodie, but a female officer was shocked, after which police kept people away from the prostrate woman and, not knowing how extensive the electrification problem was, decided to clear the block.

Wilbourne and Jodie both had to reverse commute to New Jersey. That hour and a half ride was there time together. She was doing her internship in Jersey, where he works as a computer security specialist, keeping hackers out of systems.

“I am an acronym freak,” Wilbourne said, looking up and reading “Jodie Lane Place” one more time on Monday. “‘Y.M.M.S.’ — ‘You Make Me Smile,’ that’s what I used to write at the end when we sent each other messages on the computer. That one comes to mind now.”

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