February 28th, 2014
08:54 AM ET
9 years ago

911 audio released from Fort Lee traffic jam

Updated 1:53 p.m. ET, 2/28/2014

 (CNN) – Officials in Fort Lee, New Jersey released 911 audio Friday from September when two out of three access lanes were closed to the George Washington Bridge, ultimately causing massive traffic gridlock across the city for four days in a controversy that has roiled the Christie administration.

The 26 hours of emergency dispatch audio opens a window into the agitation experienced by motorists that week and whether the traffic jam, which was allegedly orchestrated by top former appointees of Gov. Chris Christie, led to harm or death due to delayed emergency response time from the unusually high congestion.

Dispatches from the field

Audio between dispatchers and first responders shows that traffic was quickly becoming a problem on the first day of the lane closures, as they were "getting calls from irate motorists" by 9 a.m. ET.

A series of quotes show mounting frustration throughout the morning, though it's unclear whether it was dispatchers or first responders in the field talking in the following quotes:

"Do you know if anything happened on the bridge?" one person could be heard saying around 7 a.m.

A separate audio recording from an hour later: "Hey, 2-11, Ft. Lee Traffic is a nightmare!"

Around 9 a.m. ET: "It's backed up partly all the way back into Clearside, it's all due to the PA new pattern."

"You are aware that the town is in total gridlock, correct?" one officer could be heart saying.

A couple days later, one dispatch indicates that someone tried to get one of the lanes reopened: "Can you, uh, call Port Authority and get somebody to open up [gate?] 2."

Paramedic delays

Paramedic delays were flagged on the second day of the lane closures when Fort Lee EMS coordinator Paul Favia wrote a letter to the mayor saying the snarled traffic was "causing unnecessary delays for emergency services."

Trips that should have taken just a few minutes took up to three times longer, Favia wrote. In one instance, the EMS director said he was forced to jump a curb to escape traffic that was at a standstill while he was responding to a car accident with multiple injuries.

On the bridge: 'Those days ... worse than a disaster'

According to the audio released Friday, one woman called three times within the span of nine minutes, asking for an ambulance: "Yes, I called. Where are they?" The operator responded saying first responders were on their way, as the operator had said in the previous two calls.

In a separate incident, a dispatcher says, "the medics were notified. It is a possible head injury. She has been waiting for over an hour."

A different dispatcher reports on the gridlock: "They have a new pattern. They are testing a new pattern for traffic from [inaudible] Washington. It is down to one lane now."

Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, expressed outrage when he heard about the closures at the end of the week and immediately called for the lanes to be reopened.

In his e-mail, which was sent to a number of high-ranking officials on the Port Authority, Foye said, "I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed."

In one high-profile case, critics raised questions about the death of a 91-year-old woman, who died in cardiac arrest that week while paramedics tried to save her. Her daughter told CNN affiliate WABC that she didn't believe the traffic trouble was a factor in Florence Genova's death.

"I really don't think so, no, I really don't. I think she was 91 and really believe in my heart that she was already gone when the ambulance got (to her house)," Vilma Oleri told the station.

Timeline: How the Christie scandal unfolded

A CNN review of government records shows 61 car accidents on or near the George Washington Bridge the week of the now  infamous lane closures. The number of accidents is about average. But CNN spoke with multiple people involved in the wrecks who all say the traffic nightmare was directly to blame.

The back-story

When drivers stuck in traffic complained to Port Authority police, officers at the bridge were told to direct concerns to Fort Lee's mayor, Mark Sokolich. The order suggested the lane closures were an act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid last year.

The allegations have mushroomed into a scandal that has called into question Christie's forceful governing style and clouded potential prospects of a 2016 Republican presidential bid.

Christie has denied any knowledge of the traffic mess until after it ended and only after it appeared in media reports.

What’s in the Christie scandal documents

He also denies knowing of any political mischief involving staffers or appointees at the Port Authority, which oversees bridge operations.

On a radio program on Wednesday night, Christie defended his handling of the matter before it made national headlines in January and said he would not let the scandal distract him from his "real job."

Curt Devine, Jessica Jimenez,  Chris Boyette, Mary Kay Mallonee, Janelle Davis,  Eden Pontz, and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.

Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Rudy: "Christie claims that he personally fired her without asking for any explanation of what "time for some traffic problems" really meant."

    Christie stated on his radio show (Wednesday, I believe) that he did not personally fire her ... he (I quote) "ordered her to be fired". Sounds a bit bizarre that he wouldn't have had a conversation or any direct involvement with her prior to getting whoever it was he got to fire her for him. I understand he is trying hard to shield himself, but each time he opens his mouth, more conflicting stories come out. His most recent is that he "realized this could become a criminal investigation" and as such, chose NOT to have contact with her. Its too bad he never had much conversation with her to begin with. Or so he wants us to think. She was his chief of staff after all.

    February 28, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  2. Gurgyl

    -–whether it is proven or not, this guy is out. No sane will believe this guy. GOP is out of touch with truths also.

    February 28, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  3. Donnie the Lion

    You don't fire someone over a scandal if the scandal had zero merit.

    February 28, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  4. Danny Partidge

    No scandal? Hmmm. Is that why some resigned right off the bat 'Donnie the Lion'?

    February 28, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  5. Eric

    I find some of the comments on here extremely amusing if not disturbing at the same time. It truly shows the blindness of the fanatical left. They will do and say anything to keep power. Even if it means destroying a politician over a traffic jam. They find this to be such a controversy yet Obama's scandals get swept under the rug. I'm tired of reading how the left is better than the right yet when it comes down to it they're all the same today. We're both at each others throats as the collectivism we are living under grinds on. Until people realize there is a collective we will continue to argue and fight each other and not the true problem that is the power in D.C.

    February 28, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    So much smoke, something's burning....
    Christie has been doing what he's been doing for decades. To hear the people that knew him back when he started his career in public office the good Gov has been questionable from the onset.
    That being the case, the man has had years and years of practicing how to get the things he wants done without getting his hands dirty or much less leaving fingerprints behind.
    Do I believe he's guilty of this and the Sandy Relief Fund money disbursal? Yes.
    Will they be able to prove it?
    Well that all depends on who else they might have their eye on for the WH.
    Things have a way of petering out depending on some folks' special interests it seems.
    But that's just me ruminating out loud...

    February 28, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  7. coyote

    you got rid of an opponent, how long were those planted staffers there? Who are they? Before they were on staff. lets pin point the moment they were turned to the dark side.

    February 28, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  8. Jeff

    Meanwhile, Hillary gets a pass when PEOPLE actually died in Libya, Holder gets a pas when PEOPLE actually died in Mexico and Obama gets a pass when conservatives were harassed by the IRS. Liberal media is disgusting.

    February 28, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
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