clear
Monday May 4th, 2015 4:03AM

Tapes: No deaths, injuries from NJ bridge traffic

By The Associated Press
EDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) -- A traffic jam deliberately orchestrated by members of Gov. Chris Christie's staff that caused days of gridlock in northern New Jersey appeared not to lead to anyone's death or seriously compromise their medical care, according to a comprehensive review by The Associated Press of five hours of emergency dispatch audio, interviews and dozens of pages of call logs.

The lack of life-or-death consequences reflects good fortune, not good planning. It would have been impossible for anyone responsible to have predicted that such exasperating traffic would not cause serious emergencies for police, firefighters and paramedics. But the AP's real-world findings could affect the political repercussions for Christie, a presumptive Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

The AP's review sought to identify any emergency situations within a roughly 5-mile radius of the bridge closings where a person's life or urgent medical care appeared to have been directly endangered by stalled response times attributable to the traffic jams - and whoever was responsible for them. The review doesn't suggest who was ultimately responsible for ordering the two lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge.

The 911 records, obtained over several weeks through public records requests, included reports of chest pains, traffic collisions, false fire alarms and a dead goose in a parking lot. Officials in Fort Lee, N.J., the epicenter of the serious traffic problems, have yet to release audio from radio traffic among emergency workers during the week of the lane closures, but the AP's review included the dispatch logs of 911 calls that would have been affected.

Christie has since apologized several times for the lane closures and said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by a former aide who called for the shutdown. Still, the Justice Department and New Jersey's legislature continue to investigate whether the gridlock was political retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, by the Christie administration. The mayor did not endorse Christie's re-election.

It could have been worse. The 911 calls and dispatch logs show that police and emergency medical workers warned of "total gridlock" and pleaded for patience responding to 911 calls around Fort Lee, where streets became a virtual parking lot last September after traffic was unexpectedly backed up leading into New York City.

"The George Washington Bridge is totally gridlocked," a first responder said just before 9 a.m. on Sept. 9, the first day of the lane shutdowns. A few minutes later, a 45-year-old man called to complain of chest pains and said he was resting comfortably on a couch until help could arrive.

"We'll do our best," said the dispatcher in nearby Edgewater. The dispatcher noted the emergency crew was delayed in Fort Lee. The AP could not contact the patient or his family in subsequent weeks because his address and other identifying information were not included in dispatch logs. There were no follow-up 911 calls that morning to indicate rising concerns that the situation was growing more dire as he waited.

Fort Lee's EMS coordinator, Paul Favia, complained in a September 2013 letter to Fort Lee's mayor - before the closures were deemed to be politically motivated - that gridlock was "causing unnecessary delays for emergency services to arrive on scene for medical emergencies within the borough." He described minor delays in reaching the scenes of a traffic collision, a patient suffering chest pains and a 91-year-old woman found unconscious and later pronounced dead, although her family said they don't blame the delays for her death.

In Palisades Park, N.J., it took responders about 30 minutes to respond to a traffic collision in nearby Fort Lee on Sept. 9.

The AP's review found other instances of the backups spilling into nearby towns affecting emergency runs, including an early morning 911 call from a nursing home about an elderly woman who fell and cut her face.

"She's been waiting for over an hour," the dispatcher said at 6:20 a.m.

Police in the area, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, tried to alleviate the traffic, which clogged local roads and created miles of brake lights for days. Just as rush hour hit in full swing, a police officer radioed his plans to stop at the bottom of a nearby street and "pull some of this traffic through."

Ten minutes later, dispatchers offered a blunt assessment.

"Fort Lee traffic is a nightmare," one said. "You may want to come through Palisades Park today," an adjacent community.

Said another: "You're all aware the town is in total gridlock, right?"

Six commuters who were late to work have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Christie, his former aide and officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Two Fort Lee plaintiffs said their pay was docked because they were tardy.

A former Christie loyalist has said "evidence exists" the governor knew about the closures as they were happening, although he did not accuse Christie of ordering the traffic problems or knowing about them beforehand. In a statement, Christie's office denied the allegation made on behalf of former Port Authority executive David Wildstein.

Documents released in early January showed Wildstein, as Christie's No. 2 man at the Port Authority, ordered the lane closures starting Sept. 9. That was about one month after receiving a text message calling for traffic problems from a Christie administration aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who was later fired.

Dispatchers sent an ambulance to the home of 91-year-old Florence Fogarty on Sept. 9 after she fell.

"I was pleased with the service," Fogarty said, saying she doesn't remember any unexpected delays. Logs show that it took responders about one minute to get to her house.

---
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 4 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 4 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 4 months ago )
U.S. News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 4 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 4 months ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 4 months ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 4 months ago )
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 4 months ago )
Politics
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 3 weeks ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 3 weeks ago )
US Capitol lockdown lifted after man fatally shoots himself
WASHINGTON (AP) — A precautionary lockdown of the U.S. Capitol was lifted after about two hours Saturday following a suicide by a man carrying a protest sign.The man died after shooting himself on the...
6:15PM ( 3 weeks ago )