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Did woman, 91, die because of traffic delays in N.J. bridge scandal?

By Michael Martinez and Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 8:08 PM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Woman's daughter says she believes her mom was dead at the house
  • A New Jersey legislator wants feds to investigate death of woman, 91
  • "Endangering people's lives -- that's not politics," Democrat says
  • Gridlock delays paramedics reaching woman in cardiac arrest, EMS chief says

Fort Lee, New Jersey (CNN) -- The lane closure scandal rocking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration is raising questions whether gridlock delayed paramedics' effort to save a 91-year-old woman who was in cardiac arrest and later died.

"This crosses a line that is rarely crossed: People's lives were in danger," said New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat. "Endangering people's lives -- that's not politics. That's why the U.S. attorneys have to get involved."

Lesniak is asking for federal prosecutors to open an investigation into whether the lane closures were a factor in the woman's death.

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.

The investigation also would look into allegations that aides to Christie, a Republican, closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge as retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat who didn't endorse Christie's re-election campaign.

EMS: bridge scandal delayed paramedics

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

In two emergency calls, response time was doubled because of the traffic jams, Favia wrote.

Christie drops swagger amid heat of scandal

Among two other delays listed in the letter was the cardiac arrest of the elderly woman.

On September 9, Emergency Medical Services personnel received a call about an unconscious 91-year-old woman, and the response time was seven minutes because of traffic, Favia said in his letter.

The delay could have been longer, but because paramedics were already heading to an unrelated incident reported one minute earlier, they were able to shorten the delay in reaching the elderly woman, Favia said.

"The result of this call was a cardiac arrest, which was pronounced at Englewood Hospital," Favia wrote. "I would also like it noted that the paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road and had to meet the ambulance en route to the hospital instead of on the scene."

Favia did not indicate what the response for the call on the elderly woman should have been, but he pointed out details from the incident reported one minute earlier.

That one was a motor vehicle accident with injuries. Favia arrived on that scene in seven minutes, when it should have taken him less than four minutes, he said. An EMS crew arrived in nine minutes, he said. Four people in that accident were transported to the hospital, he said.

Chris Christie bridge scandal: a primer

In summarizing a total of four delayed emergency responses on September 9 and September 10, Favia urged Mayor Mark Sokolich to take action.

"I am bringing this to your attention so that perhaps some type of modification of change can be made to this new traffic pattern, so we can possibly avoid any further delayed response times to emergencies throughout the borough," Favia wrote in the letter, dated September 10.

Favia couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

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

CNN's Ray Sanchez reported from New Jersey, and Michael Martinez wrote and reported from Los Angeles.

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