Unbolted plates blamed in parking lot mess

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Photos taken the day after Saturday&#39;s storm reveal how a massive drainage ditch in a New Jersey Transit parking lot in Wayne had trapped commuters in their cars as water surrounded them. </span></div>
The Investigators
September 9, 2008 3:13:44 PM PDT
Some New Jersey Transit commuters say negligence created potentially unsafe flooding conditions. Video taken the day after last Saturday's storm reveals how a massive drainage ditch in a New Jersey Transit parking lot in Wayne had trapped five commuters in their cars as water surrounded them.

"I didn't think I'd ever get out of there alive. I really didn't. It was really awful," said Heidi Stiel, who said she thought she would drown.

She said with the parking lot underwater, she tried to drive her car out.

What she did not know was that the plates covering the drainage ditch had floated away exposing a four foot deep canal down the middle of the lot.

"I fell nose first, hood first into the trench itself. I saw water then pouring in through the dashboard, the front of the car. I attempted to call 911," she said.

Eventually, a New Jersey Transit worker in an SUV rescued Stiel, but then it happened again.

"We tipped sideways again into the grate as he drove and I fell sideways at about a 60-degree angle into the water the passenger side started to fill with water," she said.

Stiel was back in the trench, this time in a New Jersey Transit vehicle. In the end, the uncovered canal claimed five cars.

"I fell into the ditch. I didn't really know what had happened. The water was up to my chest. I started to wave to the police, but I don't know if they saw me or not," Mrs. Chung, another victim, said.

The reason that the drainage lids lifted is because they're not concrete. They're plastic. Since they weren't bolted down, when the rain water rushed through the ditch it lifted them right off.

Christopher Greydak, whose car was heavily damaged, says New Jersey Transit failed to ensure that construction of the new parking lot had been safely completed when it opened eight months ago.

"If these plates were bolted, the water would be held inside and they wouldn't have floated and exposed the entire ditch," he said.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, New Jersey Transit blamed the contractor for "failing to install the bolts needed to hold down the fiberglass panels," which allowed the water "to lift the panels and push them out of the trench."

On Tuesday, our cameras found the contractor, J-H Reid, installing the bolts eight months after the $16-million dollar parking lot opened.

New Jersey Transit says it will take care of the needs of those whose cars were damaged by the open ditch.

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