Death on Escalator M.T.A. Had Once Hoped to Replace

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By  and IVAN PEREIRA

Published: March 14, 2012

Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were trying on Wednesday to determine to what extent an escalator that they had hoped to replace at a Long Island Rail Road station may have caused the death of an 88-year-old woman.

Irene Bernatzky died on Tuesday afternoon after she fell down the escalator at the Lindenhurst station, choking to death when her clothes got entangled in the escalator’s treads, according to a preliminary investigation and autopsy, said Sam Zambuto, a Long Island Rail Road spokesman.

He added that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority police were continuing to investigate the woman’s death at the escalator, which passed inspection in early February after what Mr. Zambuto characterized as a minor repair.

But riders who use the station said in interviews that the two-story escalator had had problems for a long time. Rob Kleiber, 38, a commuter from Lindenhurst who has passed through that station for 15 years, said the escalator’s left-hand rail moved when the right-hand rail did not.

“The arm is the problem because you lean on it and you can tumble over,” Mr. Kleiber said. “It’s out of service all of the time.”

Since January 2010, the escalator was reported working more than 95 percent of the time; the railroad had spent $24,460 on repairing and maintaining it in that period before Tuesday. Mr. Zambuto said that the railroad’s escalators received monthly inspections, as well as more rigorous checkups twice a year by a contractor, ThyssenKrupp.

But according to a proposed capital budget released in February 2008, the transportation agency had plans to replace the escalator at the Lindenhurst station, along with escalators at the Merrick, Bellmore and Massapequa Park stations. But the financing for that capital plan was never secured, and later versions of the authority’s budget did not include this proposal.

Charles G. Moerdler, a member of the authority’s board who sits on the Long Island Rail Road Committee, wrote on Wednesday to Helena Williams, president of the railroad, seeking information about the inspection process and the protocols for caring for the station’s elevators.

The authority’s Web site said 9 of the Long Island Rail Road’s 71 elevators and escalators were “not working” on Wednesday.

Mr. Zambuto disputed that there were any problems with the Lindenhurst escalator. He said it “is inspected monthly and is maintained in good operating condition.” He added that while transportation authority officials had proposed replacing the escalator “in an earlier capital program prior to the economic downturn,” the agency chose to spend its limited funds on replacing older escalators instead. He added that “the service time for an escalator ranges from 20 to 25 years, and this escalator was installed in 1994.”

On Wednesday afternoon and early evening, family members gathered at Ms. Bernatzky’s home minutes from the Lindenhurst station. Dawn Shipsey, a neighbor of Ms. Bernatzky, said that Ms. Bernatzky had lived with her son and daughter-in-law for more than a decade. She walked to shops nearby to pick up groceries and took the train to Manhattan to visit her daughter.

“She was 88. But she had a lot of life left in her,” Ms. Shipsey said. “She always traveled by herself to the city, and it’s hard to fathom something like this happening.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 15, 2012, on page A28 of the New York edition with the headline: Death on Escalator M.T.A. Had Once Hoped to Replace.

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