By Kevin Deutsch
A 67-year-old legally blind man was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft in his Spuyten Duyvil co-op after he walked through a malfunctioning elevator door and plunged 25 feet Thursday, police said.
Sheldon Scott, who friends say had severe macular degeneration, was reported missing by his wife after he failed to return from an errand to a nearby Chase bank branch on Thursday. He left his apartment about 11 a.m. Thursday, and police found him lying motionless in the shaft at 25 Knolls Crescent at approximately 4 p.m.
A preliminary investigation by the city's Building Department found that the accident was due to a faulty mechanical latch meant to prevent the manual elevator door from opening when the elevator is not there, said department spokesman Tony Sclafani. The department has issued one violation, as well as a cease use order for the elevator.
Since 1991, the Building Department has issued six violations related to the co-op's elevators. But there were no violations or complaints related to the device that malfunctioned Thursday, Mr. Sclafani said.
Residents say the building's two elevators have long been plagued by malfunctions, including shaky elevator cars and doors that open for no reason, exposing the shaft. They had long feared an accident like Thursday's would occur.
"You never feel safe in those elevators. You never feel comfortable," said one longtime resident, who didn't want to give her name for fear the co-op board would chastise her. "One or the other was always out of service. They had just put a new motor in one of them and they said it was going to be fine. Instead, a good man is dead."
Repairmen had been servicing the elevators for weeks due to the ongoing problems, residents said. On Friday. a truck from McGlynn Hays Elevator Company was parked in front of the co-op while men did repairs in the basement.
"They had just been called in to improve the elevator service," said Marvin Goodman, 81, a longtime friend and neighbor of Mr. Scott's. "Because of his vision problem, I don't think he knew that the elevator car wasn't there."
Michael Rowe, President of Knolls Cooperative Section II, where Mr. Scott lived, issued a statement saying the co-op was "deeply saddened by the death of one of our friends and longtime residents" and are cooperating with authorities. The co-op is owned and managed by its residents.
Mr. Scott, who lived in the co-op more than 30 years, was a favorite of the workers at Ben's market next door. He and his wife Elaine would come in for a roast beef or turkey sandwich, and Mr. Scott would play his lucky numbers in the lotto, workers said.
"He was a sweet old man," said Genevieve Martinez, 25, who said she practically grew up with Mr. Scott. "He was in three times a week, just the nicest man you can imagine."
Anna Rufino, 48, who works in the deli at Ben's, said she has a retarded brother who is enamored by the "state" quarters issued by the treasury. So Mr. Scott would put them aside for her whenever he got one.
"He'd do anything for you," said Ms. Rufino. "I used to kiss him on his cheek and warn him not to tell his wife or she'd be jealous. We had fun."
At the Chase branch where Mr. Scott was headed when he died, the branch manager said bank workers had hoped Mr. Scott show up there after his wife reported him missing.
"We tried to help and keep an eye out for him in case he showed," said Pierre Morales. "Unfortunately, he never did."
The medical examiner's office is working to determine the official cause of Mr. Scott's death.
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