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Woman, 88, strangled to death by clothes caught in escalator

An 88-year-old woman was strangled to death Tuesday after her clothes became tangled in an escalator at a New York train station. WNBC-TV's Pei-Sze Cheng reports.


An 88-year-old woman was strangled to death when her clothes got tangled in the treads of an escalator she was riding at the Long Island Rail Road station in Lindenhurst Tuesday, officials say.

"A preliminary investigation and autopsy concluded that the woman fell on the escalator, her clothing became entangled and she was asphyxiated," LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto said in a statement.

The victim was identified as Irene Bernatzky of Lindenhurst, whom neighbors described as healthy and sprightly for her age. She often walked to the train station from her house and frequently visited her daughter, who lives in Manhattan.

That's where she was headed Tuesday afternoon when she fell on the escalator, according to neighbors.

"Every day, we'd see her walking up and down the block," said neighbor Gerri Hewitt, describing Bernatzky as a "friendly" and "lovely" woman who knew all the neighborhood children's names.

Regular commuters at the Lindenhurst station told NBC New York the escalator often seemed to be out of service and mentioned issues with the handrails, but LIRR officials said Wednesday the escalator has been inspected monthly and is maintained in "good operating condition."

Read the original story on NBCNewYork.com

The last inspection of the escalator before Tuesday happened on Feb. 9, according to a service log. During a maintenance procedure that day, mechanics replaced a broken upper-left comb plate.

The escalator was installed 18 years ago, in 1994. While the service time for an escalator typically ranges from 20 to 25 years, this one was marked for an early replacement, according to Zambuto. The project fell through when budget cuts shifted the priority to even older escalators. 

The escalator remained out of service Wednesday, and MTA police were continuing to investigate.

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