Volume 73, Number 40 | February 04 - 10, 2004

Family to sue over woman’s shock death

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager 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: “It’s sloppy workmanship — there’s no doubt about that. It’s a rats’ nest. There’s a lot of detritus. These boxes should be drained; they should not be filled with silt.” In addition to silt, filtered in from the street, the box contains water — even a “BBQ” potato chip bag. The two large wires in the middle of the photo were capped with shrink-fit tips by repair workers after Lane’s death and were apparently what electrified the box. The photo was taken about 20 minutes after Lane was taken to Bellevue by an ambulance.

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 surface, allowing her to continue to be electrocuted.

According to witnesses, Lane was left lying on the cover for about 20 minutes. According to Police Department and Fire Department records, there was a 12-minute gap 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. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Bellevue Hospital at 6:57 p.m.

Reached for comment in Austin, Tex., Lane’s father, Roger M. Lane, asked specifically 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 to the sources, 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 confirmed 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 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 in the gutter and 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 dog,” Rosso said. “Then she went back to get the other dog. Kurt was looking down at the other dog. 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.”

Could Lane have been saved if she had been removed from the plate in time? Rosso said he heard that Lane was “out cold” and “foaming at the mouth.”

He said Kurt and Perner, a dog-walker, felt terrible, asking themselves why they hadn’t done more to help.

However, should police, as trained first-responders, as opposed to civilians, been able to do more to help Lane? According to police spokespersons, 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.

Police spokespersons admitted 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 had spoken, made eye contact or been 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.

Asked whether the female officer had felt a pulse, Burke said, “She was attempting to feel the pulse when she was shocked — so there’s no way of knowing.”

Burke said police would not make available for interviews the officer who was shocked or any police who were at the scene of the incident, because there is an ongoing investigation.

Lane was pronounced dead on arrival at Bellevue Hospital 22 minutes after an E.M.S. ambulance arrived at the scene on E. 11th St. Asked if Lane was alive 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 metal plate to walk on top of it 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.

Billig said that when E.M.T.’s arrive at the scene they generally can’t tell how long a person has been in cardiac arrest. However, biological death occurs within six to 10 minutes as tissue starts to die without oxygen.

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.”

Lieutenant Burke said the Police Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit officers do receive training on dealing with electrocution, but that if the incident is not called in as such, normal patrol officers, as opposed to E.S.U. officers, will respond.

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,” Miranda said, “and that’s too long.”


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