By CHRISTINE HAUSER
A 5-year-old Brooklyn boy fell 10 stories down an elevator shaft to his death on Tuesday in a public housing complex where residents had complained of recurring problems with the elevators and renovations had been delayed because of federal cutbacks.
The police said the boy, Jacob Neuman, 5, was in an elevator with his 8-year-old brother at 70 Clymer Street in South Williamsburg just before 9:00 a.m. when the elevator became lodged between the 10th and 11th floors. Jacob, a student at a Talmudic academy, was on his way to classes when he tried to escape through the opened elevator door by jumping to the 10th floor, the police said, but lost his footing and fell to the bottom of the shaft.
The boy was taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead at 9:30 a.m., said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.
Jacob was the youngest of five children, three girls and two boys. The family lives on the 11th floor of the building, which is part of the Taylor-Wythe apartment complex, owned and overseen by the New York City Housing Authority.
The funeral, held nearby at the Yereim Orthodox Chapel at 93 Broadway soon afterward, was attended by several hundred men, dressed in the traditional black garb of the Hasidic community, and by women with head coverings. Jacob’s father, Chaim, delivered a eulogy, saying in Yiddish, “We are parting, but we will never forget you.”
Jacob’s mother and sisters clutched their faces in grief and had to be helped into chairs on the sidewalk near the end of the service.
In interviews at the complex, residents of the 12-story building said there had been repeated problems with the elevators.
“A lot of times they have become stuck,” said Doris Acosta, who lives on the second floor. “Sometimes they don’t close or don’t open,” she said. “Like when we try to close the door it stays open, and sometimes when we are trying to press the elevator button it doesn’t move. It has happened a lot of times.”
Akive Mendelowitz, 56, who has lived on the 11th floor of the building for 21 years, said he had often called 311 for help.
“This morning — it was like I would say 5:30 — I wanted to go down, and the elevator did not stop,” he said in a telephone interview. Instead, he had to walk down a few floors to catch the elevator. “I needed to go to the 10th floor and then 9th floor,” he said.
“And then this happens,” he said.
The building’s elevators were rated “unsatisfactory” in 17 of 21 inspections the housing authority conducted from 2004 through 2007, city records show, but authority officials said most of those involved minor matters like broken light bulbs or oil leaking from the elevator motor. The authority did not find any problems it considered hazardous, said Howard Marder, an authority spokesman.
The building’s two elevators were to have been modernized in 2004, but those projects were twice delayed because of cuts in federal aid, housing authority officials said.
According to City Department of Buildings records, someone complained on Jan. 21 this year that one of the building’s elevators became stuck for about an hour.
A housing authority official said five operational failures were reported in the last six months in the elevator where Jacob fell. According to the buildings department Web site, the last recorded inspection of the elevators at that address was on Oct. 3, 2007.
A housing authority statement said that the circumstances were under review by city agencies.
David Yassky, the city councilman who represents the neighborhood, said in a statement that the housing authority assured him that it was “working to get to the bottom” of Jacob’s death. The Police Department was also investigating.
Mr. Yassky said in a telephone interview that he had not been aware of elevator problems at the building but he was aware of general complaints at the complex, which was completed in 1974. “Public housing and the city housing authority has been chronically underfunded for years, and the result of that neglect is just becoming more and more evident,” he said. “There are elevators that don’t work and doors that are chronically broken. This is what happens when you let buildings fall apart through neglect.”
“This is a tragedy and a very personal thing that happened today,” he said.
Israel Rosenberg, 30, the president of the tenants’ association at the complex, said he had received complaints from residents two weeks ago about the elevator from which Jacob fell. “They’re a danger,” he said. “They’ve been a danger. We complain but nothing is ever done.”
So common is the sound of the emergency alarm at 70 Clymer Street that when Tanya Johnson, a resident, heard it on Tuesday, she assumed that it was just another person stuck. It was not until later while watching the news that she knew it concerned a graver emergency.
“I heard the cries, I heard the hollers,” she said. “I heard him calling his brother’s name. I heard the little boy. He was hysterical. I heard them pushing the button.”
Pessie Gelb, 37, a neighbor, said she saw Jacob’s brother after the accident. “He was saying, ‘I couldn’t grab my brother. I couldn’t grab my brother,’ ” she recalled.
Jacob was a student at the Central United Talmudic Academy. The president of the United Jewish Organization, Rabbi David Niederman, said some of Jacob’s siblings came home from summer camp upstate when they learned of his death.
At the funeral, Rabbi Mendel Teitelbaum wept as he spoke. “This is not the nature of the world,” the rabbi said, “that young children should die before their parents and grandparents.”
The tiny coffin, draped in a black cloth with white trim, was carried down Broadway and placed in a minivan to be taken to a cemetery in New Brunswick, N.J.
Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, David Giambusso, Daryl Khan and Ray Rivera.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company