Volume 73, Number 38 | January 21 - 27, 2004

Could police have saved electrocuted woman’s life?

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photos by Bob Arihood

Con Ed workers repaired the junction box that killed Jodie Lane, 20 minutes after an ambulance took her to the hospital.

East Villagers and all New Yorkers were stunned after the news that Jodie Lane, a 30-year-old Ph.D. student, had been fatally electrocuted after coming in contact with a Con Ed junction box cover on the street last Friday evening.

Lane lived on E. 12th St. and was studying clinical psychology. She was walking her two dogs past Veniero’s pastry shop on 11th St. near Second Ave. just before 6:30 p.m., when the dogs, which were walking in the gutter, began to become frantic; one dog started biting the other. The commotion with the dogs went on for several minutes, Lane calling out for help. Lane, who was reportedly on the sidewalk, then stepped down to try to get them under control when she touched the slush-covered metal cover, which was topped with concrete so as to blend in with the street.

Jacob King, 21, the cashier at Veniero’s, watched the terrible incident unfold 10 ft. away from him through the window.

“It looked like she was bending down to help the dogs, and then she just sort of lay down. She didn’t hit her head,” King said. “She just sort of like gave out. She put both her hands down. She was on her back, with her head almost on the curb.”

A crowd of 10 to 15 people gathered around Lane, who was left lying on the street “at least 15 minutes,” Lane said. Others said it was more like 20 minutes.

King asked if anyone was going to help her — he had to man the register — but that people were afraid to go out because the dog that had been biting had lain down in front of the shop’s door. Meanwhile a woman outside was screaming at the customers that it wasn’t the dogs’ fault.

Police arrived. King said he saw police shine a flashlight in Lane’s eye and put a hand on her neck to check for a pulse.

“A cop had touched her and I found out later [the officer] had gotten electrocuted,” King said. King said he only learned the officer had been electrocuted from the New York Post the next day.

Police waited for Fire Department E.M.T.’s to arrive, who dragging the woman by one foot, got her off the electrified cover, put her into an ambulance, then waited several minutes, according to King, before heading to Bellevue Hospital, where Lane was pronounced dead on arrival.

According to Det. Kevin Czartoryski, a Police Department spokesperson, police responded at 6:23 p.m., Friday night. According to Fire Department spokesperson Michael Loughran, E.M.T.’s arrived at the scene at 6:35 p.m. and Lane arrived at the hospital at 6:57 p.m.

Czartoryski said the department was not releasing the name of the officer who was shocked, who was taken to Bellevue and observed overnight before being released.
“She felt a charge through her body…. We’re not putting her name out. It was a female officer from the Ninth Precinct,” Czartoryski said.

Asked if police officers might have been able to do more to help Lane, he said, “They got there; they did the best they could.”

Richard Pollas, a Bellevue administrator, confirmed that a female police officer was brought in to the hospital and held for observation in connection with the incident, though he didn’t release her name, citing health privacy laws.

Joe Petta, a Con Ed spokesperson, said the incident was still under investigation.

On Monday, Con Ed fixed an exposed cable on St. Mark’s Pl. Yet, Con Ed was criticized for not responding more quickly.

“We do know there was a short in the box,” he said. “Exactly what caused it is under investigation.”

However, he added that at this time of year when there has been salt put on the street and there is slush that seeps into the boxes, short circuits occur. There are 250,000 of the junction boxes in New York City and Westchester, he said; the boxes are where cables from manholes are threaded into buildings.

Petta said they’re always trying to improve the system’s safety, but there are limits to what can be done. The boxes are supposed to drain by themselves, but Petta said, “There is virtually no way that you can keep dirt, salt and other substances out of manholes [and junction boxes]. These are city streets. There is no way they are going to be airtight. These facilities are safe. This was a tragic and highly unusual accident.”

Eric Miranda, 35, who lives down the block, had been walking his dog and had just chatted with Lane before the incident. His girlfriend, Ming Chan, had been going to the store, and witnessed the incident and ran to get Miranda who had just gone inside. Miranda angrily feels that the police didn’t do enough — and said they stopped him from trying to help Lane.

“They told me they’d collar me, which means put me in handcuffs,” if he tried to help her, Miranda said. “I asked her if they knew if she was still alive and if there was something we could do, like get a broom from Veniero’s. I told them they could stand on a spare tire to get to her, or that I would stand on it. It was just arrogant. I asked her if she was alive, and they said they didn’t know. I said if you don’t know you better do something and ran at her. Three or four cops blocked my way.”

At one point, he said a female police officer asked if anyone had a mirror to see if Lane was still breathing.

“You’ll get close enough to hold a mirror — but not grab a rubber sneaker?” C’mon,” an outraged Miranda told The Villager. A call to the Ninth Precinct’s community affairs officer was not returned.

Garrett Rosso, a manager of the Tompkins Sq. Dog Run, said dog owners are familiar with “hotspots” around the neighborhood where the sidewalks are electrocuted. In fact, he said, his ridgebacks know where they are and will walk across the street to avoid them.

“It’s something dog owners have known about for years,” he said. “Our dog run group knows of at least six spots where this is happening.”

One spot is at 114 Ridge St., just outside a school, where voltage has been felt since May.

“I noticed there was a Con Ed truck fixing it this morning,” Rosso said. “The school kids could feel it coming right up through the sidewalk. They put their hands on it.” Other spots are the northeast corners of Seventh St. and Avenues A and B, he said. The dog owners distribute flyers about the hot spots and also have a Web site with information about them: groups.yahoo.com/group/smalldogrunfolks/.

Harvey Epstein, chairperson of Community Board 3, called Lane’s death, “Totally horrible.”

Susan Stetzer, chairperson of the board’s Public Safety and Sanitation Committee, which planned to hear from a Con Ed official at their meeting last night, said, “Electricity in the city has been a problem. I’m just surprised at how many hotspots people are aware of. I guess rubber shoes provide insulation, but this woman fell, so maybe her skin was touching. There’s a lot of questions and people want answers and what is Con Ed going to do? We hear answers about corrosion of wires. Well, we know that’s the problem — but what is Con Ed going to do?”


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