A piece of plywood fatally struck a 67-year-old woman walking on the sidewalk in Queens Thursday morning as wind gusts were expected to reach up to 50 miles per hour throughout the day, according to city officials.
Xiang Ji was walking eastbound on Main Street near 41st Road in Flushing when a piece of plywood at 41-28 Main Street hit her about 9:45 a.m., an NYPD spokesperson said. Emergency responders found her unconscious and unresponsive. She was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital in Queens, where she was pronounced dead.
The plywood panel fell on the woman hours after the Department of Buildings reminded property owners on Wednesday night to "take precautionary measures" as wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour were expected. The department was performing spot checks at construction sites to check if they were properly secured.
Forensic engineers and inspectors were conducting an investigation of the building "to ensure that there is no further danger to the public," DOB spokesperson Abigail Kunitz said regarding the fatal incident.
The aluminum-covered plywood panel was at the front of the building and collapsed on the sidewalk, "tragically striking a pedestrian," she said. Police had at first believed the plywood fell off scaffolding, but DOB's preliminary investigation revealed the piece of plywood was a building panel.
"Following our full investigation, we will take aggressive enforcement actions against responsible parties as warranted," Kunitz said. "We have ordered the owners to immediately erect a sidewalk shed around the building."
In a release this week, the department said: "Property owners must consider the safety of their buildings and construction sites, including cranes, suspended and supported scaffolding, hoists, and any other building appurtenances that may come loose from exposure to high winds."
Ji lived in Westbury, New York.
"My heart goes out to the family and friends of the woman who was struck by falling debris today in Flushing," Queens Councilmember Peter Koo said in a statement.
"Such a horrific tragedy should never happen to anyone who is simply walking down the sidewalk, and it is a clear example of why building owners and city agencies need to ensure building facades are safe, especially during periods of high winds," Koo said.
The property has a stop work order dating back to August for working without a permit for electrical, plumbing and foundation work, DOB records show. In November, property owners Kam Kee Realty, Inc. applied for permits to do interior demolition work to resolve that violation.
The owners had 18 open DOB-issued violations that have to go through the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, related to various illegal interior work, unpermitted business signs, and illegal occupancy, though none were related to the building's facade, according to the department.
A number listed for the building owner was not in service. An emailed request for comment was not immediately returned.
UPDATE, 7:20 p.m.: The Department of Buildings announced Thursday evening it issued a violation to the property owner.
In a statement, department spokesperson Abigail Kunitz said: "We have issued a violation to the property owner for failure to properly maintain the building, and have ordered the immediate installation of a sidewalk shed at the location in the interest of public safety. Investigations into this incident, by DOB and our partners in law enforcement, are ongoing, and additional enforcement actions may be issued at the conclusion of these investigations."
This article has been updated with the identity of the woman and additional information from the Department of Buildings. It has also been updated to reflect the piece of plywood was a building panel, not plywood that fell from scaffolding.