After fatal Short Hills carjacking, bill moves forward on emergency access for parking decks

Bill Wichert, NJ Advance Media

In light of how an ambulance could not access a parking deck after a 2013 fatal carjacking at The Mall at Short Hills, state legislators today moved forward a bill requiring certain parking garages to have an on-site emergency vehicle to access all levels of the facilities.

But representatives of builders' groups raised concerns about the legislation, saying it creates logistical issues and could present undue burdens for some properties.

In a 4-1 vote, the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee released the bill - Assembly Bill A-3372 - and sent it to the full Assembly for a vote. An identical bill also has been introduced in the State Senate.

"Under this bill, an emergency transport vehicle would be available to reach a person in need of emergency services and transport that person to a waiting ambulance," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the Assembly bill, said in a news release.

"We can hopefully avoid tragedies by allowing emergency medical workers quicker access to victims," Vainieri Huttle added. "This is common sense and very much the right thing to do for public safety."

The legislation would require parking garages with clearance levels preventing access by ambulances to have an on-site emergency transport vehicle that could access every level of the facility to bring people to an ambulance outside the garage.

Under the bill, the state Commissioner of Health would be required to set up guidelines governing the specifications for the emergency transport vehicles.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), who cast the lone dissenting vote on the committee, however, argued during today's hearing that the legislation could have "unintended consequences" and "become so unduly burdensome."

Schepisi noted the potential impact of requiring small businesses with parking decks to have such a transport vehicle.

The legislation was crafted in response to the Dec. 15, 2013 fatal carjacking of Hoboken attorney Dustin Friedland at The Mall at Short Hills in Millburn. Four men havepleaded not guilty to charges of killing Friedland.

After letting his wife into the passenger side door of their Range Rover, Friedland was confronted by his attackers and shot once in the head at close range, authorities said.

But after emergency responders were contacted, the ambulance could not fit under the parking deck's ceiling, forcing emergency workers to roll a stretcher up the ramp and then wheel Friedland back down.

"Emergency responders lost precious time when they were forced to abandon the ambulance and run on foot with a stretcher to reach Mr. Friedland," Vainieri Huttle said.

Friedland's widow, Jamie Schare Friedland, has cited that series of events as part of her ongoing lawsuit against the mall's owners and the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer First Aid Squad, among other defendants.

But during today's committee hearing, Jeff Kolakowski, a representative of the New Jersey Builders Association, said his organization had "serious concerns" with the legislation.

"We believe, as introduced, that this bill will create undue burdens on the owners and operators of certain parking garages," Kolakowski said.

For smaller parking garages, Kolakowski questioned whether transport vehicles would reduce the time it takes for EMTs to arrive at the emergency scene. If an elevator is available, taking the elevator at a parking garage would get first responders to the scene more quickly than the vehicles, Kolakowski said.

Kolakowski also raised logistical concerns about the legislation, questioning whether parking garage employees or EMTs would be responsible for driving the vehicles.

If the parking garage staff is responsible, "there are certainly liability issues, there's training and qualification issues that should be taken into consideration," Kolakowski said.

If first responders are responsible, Kolakowski questioned how they would access the vehicles, which would be securely stored. Kolakowski said "valuable time may be wasted as the first responders locate and access these emergency carts."

A "better course of action" would be to encourage communication between EMTs and the owners and operators of the parking garages to determine the most appropriate way of accessing them in the event of emergencies, Kolakowski said.