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

EDITORIAL



Con Ed must answer for Villager’s death

The tragic death of Jodie Lane, a 30-year-old E. 12th St. resident, after she came in contact with an electrified junction box cover in the East Village last Friday night was a truly horrendous event. A Columbia Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, Lane had her life and a promising career ahead of her when her dogs got electrocuted on the metal cover, she tried to help them and ended up dead.

In addition to the grief of Lane’s friends, family and acquaintances, many questions remain unanswered. First of all, in this city where residents already have so much to be anxious about, now comes the fear that anyone can be killed simply by doing something as innocuous as walking their dogs in the street. Con Edison must answer for how these junction boxes, of which there are 250,000 scattered on almost every street in New York City and Westchester, can become lethal.

Downtown dog owners have long known there are “hotspots” on local streets, places where electricity surges through the sidewalk, causing their dogs to jump and yelp in pain. Following Friday’s tragedy, Con Ed suddenly got on the ball and responded to various exposed cables and hotspots that have long been cause for concern. A cable on the sidewalk outside St. Dymphna’s restaurant and bar on St. Mark’s Pl. was promptly dealt with by Con Ed workers who responded in a battalion of trucks. Con Ed workers were “on it” — to use their advertising slogan — on a hot spot on a sidewalk on Ridge St. that school children there reportedly have known existed since May.

The problem is no secret: in the winter, salt and slush seep into these junction boxes as well as manhole covers; wires get eroded, metal covers or sidewalks get electrified.

Con Ed says it simply can’t make these boxes and manholes airtight. Well, that’s simply not a good enough answer. Either they must be made airtight, so nothing seeps into them or salt must stopped being used on sidewalks and streets to melt snow (but that seems unlikely) or the lids of these utilities must be made with nonconductive materials. And Con Ed must respond immediately to reports of hotspots where whole sections of sidewalks are electrified.

At the least, Con Ed must immediately put in place a stepped-up inspection system for these boxes.

Also of concern was the police response to Lane’s plight. One female police officer was shocked after trying to help Lane and taken to Bellevue Hospital for observation. Yet, according to eyewitnesses, Lane was left lying in the gutter on the electrified cover for about 20 minutes, while other police stood by, and prevented anyone from trying to assist her. Some civilians offered ideas — stand on a tire, use a broom from Veniero’s pastry shop — to try to move her off the spot while avoiding being shocked or electrocuted. Yet police refused to take action, waiting for E.M.T.’s to arrive and handle the situation.

Clearly, until Con Ed solves this problem, police need better training on how to assist injured civilians on electric plates on the street. It seems police should have done more and that if they had — maybe a young woman’s life could have been saved.


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