A mall escalator in New Jersey that crushed a young girl's foot, causing her to lose two toes, had been singled out for maintenance work months earlier that was never done, News 4's I-Team has learned.
Juliana Valdez, 11, was shopping with her mother and brother at Macy's in Garden State Plaza Mall on Aug. 16 when they stepped onto what's designated by the Paramus Buildings Department as Macy's Escalator 2. Juliana's foot got entangled in the escalator, and she's since had to undergo 15 surgeries.
"She can only take 10 steps at a time and then gotta go back to her bed," said her father Juan Valdez.
Records obtained by the I-Team show that Escalator 2, which was built in 1955, was inspected in March by Municipal Inspection Corp., a sub-contractor for the borough of Paramus, and was found to not be running smoothly and that it needed maintenance for its roller and track surface.
Macy's was given a temporary certificate to operate the escalator, but it expired on July 31. The maintenance work to fix the violations was never completed prior to the accident.
"These escalators are so poorly maintained that the distance between the steps is about double what the code permits," said Sam Davis, attorney for the Valdez family.
Paul Kauffman, the Paramus borough attorney, said the inspection showed no life safety defect, and that was why the escalator was not put out of service and given the temporary certificate to operate. Kauffman says the borough is now looking into why there was no follow-up prior to the accident.
Escalators in New Jersey are supposed to be inspected twice a year, but documents from Paramus show the escalator where the girl was hurt was checked only once in 2012 and once in 2013 prior to the accident.
"I do not know if those inspections were ever complete. We have requested that all the records be turned in by the inspection company," said Kauffman.
It's not clear if a lack of a second inspection contributed to the accident.
Macy's is not commenting on the accident because the Valdez family is suing the retail giant.
"They should have checked it out," said Juliana Valdez. "I heard it was one of the oldest escalators. They should have changed it."
Thyssenkrupp, which had a contract to maintain the escalator and examine it at least once a month, says it was last checked out on Aug. 9, a week before the accident.
Escalator accidents aren't uncommon. There were more than 22,000 last year alone in the U.S. And just three years ago in New Jersey, Alana Bogard lost a toe in an escalator accident similar to Valdez's at the Paramus Park Mall.
"I found her lying in a pool of blood on the ground," said the girl's mother, Randi Bogard.
In the Garden State Plaza case, Municipal Inspection Corp. is not commenting. But the company sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs claiming Macy's interrupted its May inspection, and Thyssenkrupp could not reschedule before the accident.