Slip and fall at Hammels kills vet in wake of Sandy

Slip and fall at Hammels kills vet in wake of Sandy
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

Albert McSwain and his daughter had only wanted to get some air after the hurricane, she said.

But after the pair encountered a pitch-black stairwell slick with water, McSwain’s daughter, Allison McSwain-Lockett, headed back for a flashlight so they could better navigate their way outside from the fourth floor in the Hammel Houses following Sandy.

“When I came back, he had slipped,” she said. ”I wasn’t gone a split second.”

McSwain-Lockett said she ran to alert emergency responders, who then carried out McSwain from between the third and fourth floors on a stretcher. His daughter said the 77-year-old’s spinal cord had been severed in the fall and his head had hit the concrete.

After several days of treatment, McSwain, a U.S. Army veteran who had worked for 23 years as a custodian at the city Police Academy, died at Jamaica Hospital. He was the 11th person in Queens whose death is attributed to the storm and his death brought the city’s total to 43, police said.

His family complained that the New York City Housing Authority, which oversees the Hammel Houses in central Rockaway, had not properly secured the stairwells. NYCHA declined to comment.

“When you have a water condition, I don’t care what you are doing, you are supposed to put out cones,” McSwain-Lockett said. “They could have barricaded these doors and said, ‘Stay in here. Don’t go outside.’”

Relatives described McSwain as healthy, sturdy and having a big appetite for life. His daughter recalled buying him a cake for his birthday last month, and McSwain left her the bakery box string on top of the TV to indicate he had finished the whole treat himself.

McSwain-Lockett said she had moved back in with her father after she was displaced from her home in Jamaica following Tropical Storm Irene and she praised his generosity.

“I’ve brought total strangers here to his door, and said, ‘I need some help.’ He helped them,” she recalled.

A father of five, grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of 10, McSwain was originally from Alabama and moved to New York after serving in the Korean War. He beat throat cancer in 1989, his daughter said.

A service was scheduled for Thursday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Deliverance Baptist Church, at 227-11 Linden Blvd. in Cambria Heights, with a funeral to follow at the same location between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Relatives said Monday that they had waited to tell McSwain’s 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Shayla Johnson, of his death. When she would ask for McSwain after his fall, family members would have her call his phone, so she could listen to his voicemail.

“Every afternoon, because she lives around the corner, she calls him and says, ‘Grandpa, are you all right?’” McSwain-Lockett said.

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at timesledgerphotos@gmail.com or by phone at 718-260-4589.