Stuck in Elevator

Delivery man stuck in elevator as cops terrorize building
By G. Dunkel
Worker’s World | New York

Ming Kuang Chen, who delivers for a Chinese restaurant in the Bronx, spent 81 hours in a broken elevator—even as police were terrorizing residents of the building looking for him everywhere but in the most likely place.

After he finished his drops on April 1 at Tracey Towers on Mosholu Parkway, Chen took an express elevator to the lobby. The elevator stopped between the third and fourth floors.

Speaking through an interpreter at a news conference April 8, he explained, “I waved to the [security] camera, I tried to stand right in front of it, hoping someone would see me.”

“I kept pressing the alarm key, I tried to talk to security through the intercom. I did manage to speak to somebody, but I couldn’t understand what he said back.”

When Chen didn’t return to the restaurant, his colleagues called the police after finding his bicycle locked up in front of the building.

The cops brought in bloodhounds, divers to search a nearby lake, and a helicopter to search the roofs. On April 2, they went through the whole building, peering down the elevator shafts and searching each of the 871 apartments.

Tenant Richard Hoyen, 55, told the Daily News, “They looked under the bed, in all the closets. How could he be in an elevator all this time?”

When they couldn’t get in, they broke down doors. Troy Smith, who lives on the 34th floor, came home with some friends to find cops with helmets and flak jackets in his apartment.

They cuffed him and took him to the station because he was wearing a T-shirt with a stain on it. At the station house they made him sign a statement giving the cops permission to test his T-shirt for blood.

They kept on asking him, “Where is the Chinese man and what did you do with him?” Smith repeatedly answered he knew nothing about what had happened to the delivery person.

The cops finally dug up an old warrant on Smith, which let them keep him over the weekend, but they had to let his friends go. Meanwhile, Chen was still in the elevator, forcing the door open when he had to urinate.

Every time he used the intercom, a light flashed indicating he was calling from Elevator #2. But the security officers disregarded his calls, they say, because they mistook his accent for drunkenness.

The cops didn’t physically inspect the elevators, but looked at TV monitors, which produce a small, poor-quality image and don’t cover the whole space.

Finally, after more than three days, maintenance workers responded to cries from the elevator and called the fire department, which lowered it to the lobby and took Chen to Montefiore Hospital. He was treated for dehydration and released.

The cops were so embarrassed that they told the press Chen was “illegal” and probably had been held by the people who smuggled him into the country, since there was no urine in the elevator. Releasing this information is against city policy, but Chen would have much more difficulty suing the cops or the security firm, which ignored his cries for help, if he is sent back to China.

As for a lawsuit, “He hasn’t ruled it out, but he hasn’t given it any consideration at all,” said City Council member John Liu, who is helping Chen. Liu is the first city councilperson of Chinese origin. “A lawsuit seems to be on everybody else’s mind, but it’s not on his right now. He’s working on his recovery and thinking about how to support his family.”

His wife and 10-year-old son live in China.

While it may not have a direct connection to this incident, the three firms that provide most of the elevator repair and maintenance in New York—Otis, Schindler and Kone—locked out their workers March 17. They would rather go with untrained or poorly qualified replacement workers, or see their work done by other firms, than bargain with United Elevator Workers Local 1 after the contract has expired.

Local 1 elevator mechanics have four years of classroom training, four years of on-the-job training as apprentices, and then are required to pass a state and federally mandated mechanics examination.

If the lockout goes on, and elevators become less and less reliable and safe, the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use elevators every day to move around their city will risk being caught in a situation like Chen’s, or perhaps worse.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011


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