The political maneuvering that led to the traffic snarls have left scars on the Fort Lee community
For four days, the traffic jam now threatening the political future of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, wreaked havoc on the lives of Fort Lee residents, whose suffering has become the face of a still unfolding story.
As questions swirl around whether Christie will run for president in 2016, people continue to cringe about the September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. E-mails indicate several Christie supporters including Bridget Anne Kelly, his now fired deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York, schemed to close the lanes to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The result: stopped cars snaked through the small borough, slowing emergency service units, delaying school buses and making even blocks-long errand runs a source of prolonged frustration.
"I feel violated," said Leon Keylin, a Fort Lee resident who lives about half a mile from the bridge. "They were playing a game and they thought they were going to inconvenience people. I don't think they really thought of the human impact."
The closures didn't just affect people trying to get on the bridge, said Keylin, 45, a computer engineer. It entangled residents who wanted to go to grocery stores, gas stations or museums in the borough.
The traffic also slowed an eventually successful police search for a missing 4-year-old, doubled emergency service response times and caused some to walk or drive on sidewalks to get to places.
Paul Favia, Fort Lee's EMS coordinator, became so worried that he wrote a letter to Sokolich detailing several "unnecessary delays for emergency services." Among them was a delay just prior to the death of a 91-year-old woman.
On Sept. 9, officials got a call that the elderly woman was unconscious. The EMS crew took seven minutes to respond and because of "heavy traffic" paramedics had to meet the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The woman later went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Florence Genova's daughter told The New York Times she is not blaming her mother's death on the closures.
"I honestly believe it was just her time," said Vilma Oleri, who reportedly called 911 after her mother went into the bathroom before breakfast and did not come out.
"We want to stay out of it," she said. "It's not political."
In his letter to the mayor, Favia also described his own desperate efforts to get to the scene of an accident where four people were transported to the hospital.
"I, myself, was stuck in traffic on Fletcher Avenue and had to jump the curb to cut up West Street in order to avoid the stand still traffic on Fletcher Avenue," he writes.
Jan Goldberg, a Fort Lee councilman, told Mother Jones that police searching for a 4-year-old also had problems.
"There was a missing child that day," he told the publication. "The police had trouble conducting that search because they were tied up directing traffic."
Another council member told Mother Jones a resident couldn't get over the bridge to support her husband through major surgery and a woman was unable to pick up her son after his dialysis session.
Christie apologized Thursday for the politically motivated lane closures and insisted that he did not know at the time about the actions of his aides and appointees.
Still, some, like life-long Fort Lee resident Tom Meyers, who had to avoid parts of his own borough during the debacle, want more answers.
Meyers' commute is only two blocks and usually takes about five minutes. During the now infamous jam, that drive turned into 45 minutes.
"After a few days, I just started walking to work because it was too much of a hassle but 99% of those people didn't have that option," said Meyers.
He added that he feels like Fort Lee residents' lives were held hostage and used as pawns. Now, he's hoping the borough will hear from Christie personally.
"It would be beneficial for the governor to come here and have some sort of town hall meeting," Meyers said.