Tragedy struck a Williamsburg family Tuesday morning when their five-year-old son plunged to his death down an elevator shaft in their 70 Clymer Street apartment building.
The incident occurred a little before 9 a.m. when the boy, Yakov Neuman, got into the elevator of the NYCHA Taylor-Wythe Houses building along with his eight-year-old brother, Israel. Both were headed to school at a Talmudic academy.
The boys got into the elevator on the 11th floor, but the elevator stalled between the 10th and 11th floors, police said. As the doors flickered open and shut, Yakov attempted to jump from the elevator to the 10th floor, landing a few feet below, police said.
But when he landed, he lost his balance and fell backwards into the empty shaft, plunging more than 100 feet, police said.
He was taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center and pronounced dead at 9:30 a.m.
In accordance with Orthodox Jewish law mandating burial within 24 hours of death, Neuman – whose parents are Satmar Hasidic Jews – was buried at a cemetery near New Brunswick, NJ, said Rabbi David Neiderman, a community leader and family friend of the Neumans.
“Something very tragic happened to a very special family,” Neiderman said. “To have a child pass away in such a tragic manner is something that shakes everybody up.”
Yakov’s brother, Israel, was pulled safely from the elevator by a neighbor.
At the time of the accident, the boys’ parents were out shopping. They were being babysat by their three older sisters.
According to both residents and city records, the buildings’ two elevators have a long history of problems.
In the past six months, the NYCHA received five reports about the elevators getting stuck. And in the past year, the Department of Buildings (DOB) received four complaints about the elevators.
Both elevators in the building failed their last inspections on October 3, receiving an “unsatisfactory” rating from the DOB. In 17 of the 21 DOB inspections conducted from 2004 through 2007, the elevators were rated “unsatisfactory.”
“They come down and fix them, but it just doesn’t hold,” said Solomon Lieser, president of the Tenants’ Association of the connected Independence Towers who has advocated on behalf of the Taylor-Wythe residents.
“They’ll fix the elevators in the morning and they’re broken again in the evening. It’s just a losing battle with these old elevators.”
But NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder characterized the problems with the elevators as “minor” and not dangerous.
“If it was something that’s major, DOB would have issued a violation. But DOB has never issued a violation for these elevators,” he said.
Marder issued a statement on behalf of NYCHA saying: “All of NYCHA joins with the Neuman family as we mourn today’s tragic loss of their son Yakov at Taylor-Wythe Houses. Our condolences and prayers are with them.”
“The circumstances of this tragedy are under review by a team of agencies including the Housing Authority,” the statement continued.
The elevators were to be renovated in 2004, but the project was delayed twice because of cutbacks in federal aid, according to building residents and NYCHA officials.
“Everyone knew these elevators were outdated,” said Lieser. “But they kept on pushing it back. We got caught with a budget crunch and this kid paid the price.”
“We kept on saying, ‘Someone’s going to get hurt some day.’ But you never picture a tragedy like this,” Lieser added.
Councilmember David Yassky said that NYCHA does not get the funding it needs to fulfill its mandate of ensuring its buildings are safe.
“NYCHA has been underfunded for years now. Today’s tragedy is made worse by the fact that, when we wake up tomorrow, NYCHA will still be underfunded and there will still be simple problems it lacks the resources to fix. Today in Williamsburg, the consequences were just awful,” he said.