By Terry Baynes and Meredith Kennedy
Just a few days after returning home from a summer tour with the band Maserati, Brooklyn-based indie drummer Jerry Fuchs died early last Sunday morning after plummeting five stories down an elevator shaft. He was 34.
Fuchs was on his way to a six-month anniversary party hosted by the nonprofit organization, The Uniform Project, in a multi-use building on 338 Berry St. in Williamsburg.
Fuchs and a photographer Stephen Alessi were both riding the freight elevator up to the party when it came to a halt between the fifth and sixth floors, reported the Daily News. Alessi successfully jumped out of the stalled car to the nearest floor and Fuchs followed, but his hood got caught and tugged him back. He fell nearly 50 feet to the ground floor.
It is unclear why there was no operator in the elevator at the time of the accident at 1 a.m. Ian Harris, who attended The Uniform Project party said in an e-mail that there was an operator manning the elevator when he rode it earlier in the evening. Mona Gora, owner of the building on Berry Street, declined to respond to phone calls about the accident. Organizers of the benefit from the Uniform Project are also refusing to respond to questions.
Christopher Lee, who has lived on the first floor of the building for the past ten years said that the elevator is used frequently by the building’s approximately 50 tenants, their friends, and clients. In addition, he said, people often have parties in the building that last into the early hours of the morning, and there is often someone there to safely operate what he described as a freight elevator. “It has no buttons that light up for the different floors,” he said.
Indeed, the elevator on Berry Street in equipped with a heavy steel door, double metal gates, and a manual control lever. “I’ve seen thousands of people come and go from the building,” Lee said. “But I’ve never seen anyone walk into that elevator and try to operate it themselves even if the superintendent had stepped away. It’s not an easy task to get in there.”
Alessi and Fuchs were riding alone in the elevator from the lobby to the fifth floor but stopped slightly above the fifth floor. City inspectors on the scene of the accident examined the elevator and did not find any mechanical issues with it, said Carly Sullivan, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings. She also said that there are no pending complaints with the elevator at this time.
But the elevator does have a history of violations, according to the Department of Buildings website. Records show one active violation (9011/296054) filed on April 1, 2009. Another elevator violation (081017-E-9011/272571) was dismissed on October 30, 2009.
Sadly, Fuch’s death occurred at the beginning of National Elevator Escalator Safety Awareness Week, which runs from November 8th to the 14th. This week, the New York City Department of Buildings is holding elevator and escalator safety classes for more than 2,000 grade school children across the city. According to the buildings department’s website, elevator inspectors are scheduled to teach children how to safely ride the 60,000 elevators in the city and what action to take in an emergency. A September 2006 article from Elevator World about what to do when someone is trapped states that it is unwise to try and jump or climb out of an elevator because it could result in injury, or in many cases like Fuchs’, death. A year ago, 5-year-old Jacob Neuman died while trying to get out of a stalled public housing elevator also in Williamsburg. Like Fuchs, he fell down the elevator shaft.
Henry Ng, a graphic designer and illustrator and friend of Fuchs, could not believe when he heard the news on Monday morning and had to check online to confirm the details. He was one of the hundreds of people to update their Twitter feed and Facebook status to honor Fuchs.
“There are people in life who have this positive ‘electricity,’ who operate at a higher voltage than most, and he was one of them,” Ng said in an e-mail. “This past year, he even got a new tattoo on his arms which depicted the MIDI input and output port patterns. This seemed to fit him very well, I think, as his drumming had a machine-like precision to it.”
Fuchs will be remembered Thursday evening in a memorial service at Enid’s Bar in Greenpoint, a popular spot the musician used to frequent.