February 28th, 2014
08:54 AM ET
8 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. Rudy NYC

    "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."
    There have been reports that the "traffic study" had been originally planned to last a month. It is still not clear to me when "traffic study" entered into the conversation, but I would imagine that by the time outraged Foye ordered the lanes re-opened, someone would have had to come up with a "reason" for the lane closures. I'm also curious as to the source and nature of his reported outrage.

    February 28, 2014 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  2. Pete

    No matter what Christie does he's radioactive as far as his future politics is concerned from now on..I can't believe as well how he got this far anyway knowing his past as NJ AG and how he did favors for his campaign donors that were scheduled for hearings,court and how he either had them rescheduled or postponed altogether as a political payback ... Just remember Christie those skeletons in the closet of yours are getting restless and are just begging to be released and then we'll see how Christie the fat boy from NJ really sings....

    February 28, 2014 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  3. ChrisM

    Christie knew about the lane closures before it happened. Christie appointees did not go to the bathroom without asking Christies permission and Everyone knows it!

    February 28, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  4. Lynda/Minnesota

    "which was allegedly orchestrated by top former appointees of Gov. Chris Christie"

    Oh. Is that still in doubt?

    February 28, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  5. Al-NY,NY

    If his minions' actions actually led to a death, they're gonna be in general population soon. And his political career..whatever is left of it, is done

    February 28, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  6. VJ

    Christie should pack his bags from Governor's office... period.

    February 28, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  7. truth is

    Can we just impeach Christie already? Everyone outside of NJ might love him, and the rich folks in this state love him, but for the majority of the state, even before this, his economic, education and middle class policies where nothing short of a disaster. One of the highest unemployment rates (still) in the country, sweatheart deals given to big business with zero to show for it, Education funding cut to its lowest level in years in spite of the fact we have some of the best schools in the country.

    Add in all this bridge stuff which just confirms everything people were saying about him anyway and please get this guy out already! If the rest of the county thinks he's so great, please you can have him

    February 28, 2014 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  8. Jo

    Have the real estate principals of the (2) billion dollar + deals that Christie was involved with been subpoenaed yet? Why not?

    February 28, 2014 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  9. Anonymous

    Christie is not to blame

    February 28, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  10. hgflyer

    Lynda, it's still in doubt because it hasn't been proven.

    February 28, 2014 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  11. Madison

    The curious thing is that the gop elites are still pouring money into the cristy machine. Are they really as tone deaf as they seem? Must be given the agenda they continue to stick with.

    Still waiting for the federal investigations into Hoboken and Sandy relief funds. But those will be played closer to the vest until the indictments are ready. THEN we will se some fireworks. Extortion and misuse of federal funds by the guvnah.....

    February 28, 2014 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  12. rs

    See, for me, this is real abuse of citizens for no reason at the hands of government. Something the GOP and their TEA Party brethren ought to be all over it.
    Instead, they go off on the IRS actually checking into organizations seeking 501 ( c ) 3 and (c ) 4 status (something they must do by law) that impacted political "education" groups only.
    The GOP/TP's claim to be pro-citizen and for less government intervention is displayed right here. They don't have any.

    February 28, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  13. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Originally I believed Christie wasn't involved but after hearing him on the radio talk show I I am convinced he ordered closure. Christy said he fired Bridgett Kelly without questions because he didn't want to interfere with any legal issues, there were no legal issues pending at that time. Furthermore, Christie justifies Sampson's actions which meaans he's questioned him while there are "legal issues pending". Yelp, Christie should resign as. Governor but he won't because his job is giving him the only legal defends he has at tax payors expense.

    February 28, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  14. spike

    Thank you CNN for your continued suppression of free speech. Can't have opposing views now can we.

    February 28, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  15. skastenbaumcnn

    @Lynda/Minnesota FYI – The use of allegedly in that instance is because there are multiple investigations underway looking into whether it was indeed David WIldstein who orchestrated the closures on his own or whether he was taking direction from the governor or someone else.

    February 28, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  16. bobo

    Please Show some PROOF Christie Knew....... Please! This is just a witch hunt.

    February 28, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  17. Rudy NYC


    "which was allegedly orchestrated by top former appointees of Gov. Chris Christie"

    Oh. Is that still in doubt?
    There are degrees of doubt, and the governor's staff is immersed in circumstantial evidence, though five people are now out of work. Nothing that has been released to the public shows any direct connection, or communication, to the governor. But, it's definitely turning into a situation that could be described as "everyone was in on it", except for Christie.

    The most unusual claim that Christie has made concerns Bridgette "time for some traffic problems" Kelly. Christie claims that he personally fired her without asking for any explanation of what "time for some traffic problems" really meant.

    February 28, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  18. Lynda/Minnesota

    @Lynda/Minnesota FYI – The use of allegedly in that instance is because there are multiple investigations underway looking into whether it was indeed David WIldstein who orchestrated the closures on his own or whether he was taking direction from the governor or someone else.

    Perhaps my snark WAS uncalled for at this stage in the investigation. Thank you for pointing that out.

    February 28, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  19. Wake up People!

    I'm telling you guys, Christy is going to skate on this. He won't be impeached or forced to resign. The GOP wants the WH. They spent billions during the 2012 election to win. They know he is their best chance at winning. They will spend whatever they have to in order for him to come out of this smelling like roses. He knew and everyone knows it but just can't prove it. I could be wrong, it's just my opinion.

    February 28, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  20. TheSadTruth

    Christie is STILL the most accurate candidate the GOP can put forward for the next election. Like the GOP controlled congress, Christie brought progress to a halt, actually obstructing the process of transportation in the same way Cruz and his bobbleheads obstruct legislation.
    Once Christie announces Ted Nugent as his running mate the GOP Dream Team will be complete!

    February 28, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  21. mercfan

    @Rudy NYC – If you had been following the story since September, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein created a flimsy reason for the study that had never been presented or approved by the Port Authority board. They just took it upon themselves which is not the normal PA protocol.

    They tried to make a case that the study was necessary because it was unfair for the borough of Fort Lee to have three full lanes feeding into the bridge’s upper level, leaving everyone else to share the remaining nine.
    But their reasoning was based on a false premise: that Fort Lee residents — who constitute more than 4 percent of the motorists who use the bridge, according to E-ZPass registration — are the only ones who use those three access lanes.

    A Record analysis of Port Authority data calls into question the study’s justification — which relied on misapplied statistics and transparently shaky reasoning.

    Not that Patrick Foye was to blame for the problem – why did it take him 4 days to rescind the order for the study.

    February 28, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  22. really

    If the media had spent just half the amount of time on Benghazi as this joker issue perhaps we would have gotten the truth on that issue. But since the media is biased and sides with the current clown-in-chief, just sweep the real stories under ther rug and go on endlessly about a bridge

    February 28, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  23. Tampa Tim

    Unlike the right wing joker issue, Benghazzi, bridge gate actually has wrong doing and cover ups.

    February 28, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  24. Papaw

    Many more words along with all reports by the media and still no connection that Christie knew about the closing. The media will keep it up even if there is never connection. We have a president that has lied to the people over and over in interviews and on TV. The media considers this OK. Wish they could bring forth the hard facts and names on the IRS scandle and Bengazie and a government taking the fifth. Good investigave reporters would find out the truth and tell the people but they cover liberal politicians with silence.

    February 28, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  25. Wake up People!

    Really..... Did you miss the millions Issa spent investigating Benghazi? The investigation began the very next day and there was not a shred of evidence implicating the POTUS or Hillary.

    Benghazi.... The new birth certificate.

    February 28, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
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