MIAMI (WSVN) - A South Florida mother is spending the holidays in a hospital bed, days after she and her 9-year-old daughter set foot in a mall elevator that plummeted one full story.
Twenty-nine-year-old Karen Velez spoke to 7News via Skype from Jackson Memorial Hospital, Saturday. “I’m unable to move. I’m unable to walk. I’m unable to sit,” she said.
The patient said she and her daughter Luna had stopped at the 163rd Street Mall in North Miami Beach to do some last-minute shopping, Friday evening. It was Velez’s 29th birthday.
They boarded one of the mall’s elevators with glass windows to head upstairs, but Velez soon felt something wasn’t quite right.
“As soon as we got to the third floor, something inside sounded like an explosion and the lights of the room, they burst out,” said Velez.
All of a sudden, the elevator plunged. “Next thing we know, we are flying in the elevator,” said Velez.
They came to a halt abruptly on the second floor, and mother and daughter slammed to the floor.
Luna only suffered minor injuries, but that was not the case with her mother. “I fell on my tailbone, and that’s when I felt the pain,” said Velez.
Shopper Wilyne Saintvil grabbed her cellphone to capture the moments after the elevator dropped. “Everybody just heard a loud sound, so everybody dropped what they were doing, ’cause it sounded almost like a gunshot,” she said.
The dramatic cellphone video shows Luna sitting next to Velez, who is seen lying on the floor.
Inside the elevator, Velez was unable to sit up. Moments later, good Samaritans ran toward the elevator and attempted to pry open the doors.
Velez was concerned the unstable elevator could continue to fall at any moment. “I told [Luna] that there was a possibility the elevator could drop again, so just to hold herself on me so she doesn’t get hurt,” said the patient as she held back tears.
Shortly after, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews responded to the scene. A growing crowd gathered to watch as firefighters were forced to use the jaws of life to pry open the doors and pull the victims to safety.
Luna was spotted in a pink long-sleeve Superman shirt as she stood next to Velez, moments before paramedics transported her to Jackson North Medical Center. Velez was later transferred to Jackson Memorial.
“We were just all in complete shock,” said Saintvil. “It could have been any one of us getting inside that elevator, and that could have been happening to any of us.”
Velez fractured four vertebrae and is scheduled to undergo back surgery in the coming days. “I’m in a lot of pain, but I’m happy I’m still alive,” she said.
Kristen Moore, a spokesperson for Brixmor Property Group, which manages the mall, released a statement that read, “The safety and security of our customers is a top priority, and we are currently working with the elevator company to ensure the elevator is operating properly. The elevator is on a regular maintenance schedule and had just been serviced in the past week.”
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