A woman waiting more than an hour for an ambulance to tend to her head injury. Police trying to figure out how to deal with a school bus accident. Irate motorists not knowing what had befallen them as they waited helplessly trying to get to work or school.
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When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September, the result was an epic traffic jam in tiny Fort Lee, NJ. That story has been described before, but for the first time today the sounds of the nightmare told the story as police recordings from those days were released to the media.
The borough of Fort Lee is a only 2.8 square miles, but on Sept. 9 at around 7 a.m., the first day two of the three local access lanes to the world’s busiest span were closed down, a 9-11 dispatcher is heard saying, "Has the medic been notified about the head injury? She’s been waiting for over an hour."
That same hour, a responder calls into emergency dispatch to ask about the increasing traffic, asking, "Do you know if anything happened on the bridge?"
Around 8 a.m. on that first day, police called to report the growing traffic with one heard saying, "Hey, 2-11 Fort Lee traffic is a nightmare!"
An hour later, emergency personnel can be heard saying: "It’s backed in all the way to Cliffside," to which the dispatcher replies, "10-4 we’re getting calls from irate motorists." At the same time, another emergency responder described just how heavy the traffic has gotten.
At one point, police officers -- not sure what was happening -- suspect either lane closures or sun glare as the reason for the traffic.
At 9:45 a.m., an officer calls in to report the traffic jam, saying: "You are aware that the town is in total gridlock, correct?" A second officer replies, “Received."
On Sept. 10 at 7:49 a.m., a woman called several times for a medical emergency. Eight minutes went by and emergency responders has still not arrived. The woman calls again in a panic and says, "It's an emergency and they're still not here."
The following day, on Sept. 11, an emergency responder is heard asking for access lanes to be opened up saying, "Can you call Port Authority and get somebody to open up B-2?"
That same day, authorities call in to say the "Port Authority’s got a school bus" -- seeming to refer to an "accident" and then "shut down the entire bridge is heard."
Overall, 28 hours of audio tapes were released this morning, including emergency calls to 911 as well as radio transmissions between police and dispatch from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the four days the access lanes were closed from Sept. 9-12. The lanes were reopened after the top executive at the agency that runs the bridge learned of the closures, deciding that they were unauthorized.
The audio confirms what has been previously reported that the traffic snarl did not lead to anyone’s death or seriously impact medical care. E-mails released last month revealed top aides to Christie closed down the lanes as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who chose not to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
The release comes on the heels of the disclosure yesterday of newly uncensored records showing that the two officials responsible for the Fort Lee traffic jam joked about doing the same type of thing in front of the home of a central New Jersey rabbi who had angered them.
The traffic-jam scandal has engulfed Christie, calling into question whether he would be able to mount a serious bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 after having been viewed for months as a contender for the White House. The closures have also become the subject of a criminal probe and an investigation by the state legislature. Christie has repeatedly denied knowing about the lane closures before they occurred and has said he had nothing to do with the decision to close them. There has been no evidence directly linking Christie to the closures.