What to Know
- After a harrowing ordeal in which he found himself being swallowed by the ground after a sinkhole suddenly opened up on a Bronx sidewalk, a man has filed lawsuit against the city and a building's landlord
- Leonard Shoulders was waiting for a bus at East 183rd Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx in late October, when the sidewalk beneath him collapsed, sending him falling about a dozen feet into a rats' den
- The underground pit was so full of rodents, his mother told NBC New York after the incident, Shoulders couldn't even scream for help
The man who experienced a real-life New York City nightmare — falling into a rat nest after the sidewalk collapsed beneath his feet, leaving him too terrified to scream and risk having the rodents crawl into his mouth — is suing the city and a building landlord.
Leonard Shoulders was waiting for a bus at East 183rd Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx in late October, when the sidewalk beneath him collapsed. The 33-year-old was swallowed into a sinkhole, falling more than a dozen feet into a den of horrors.
"He was immediately surrounded by rats he describes as the size of puppies," Shoulders' attorney Nick Bagley said. "New Yorkers' two great fears: falling through a sidewalk, and rats."
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The underground pit was so full of rodents, Shoulders' mother Cindy White told NBC New York after the incident, he couldn't even scream for help.
“He was like, 'Ma, the rats down there were ridiculous.' He was like, 'they were like so big.' He was scared to yell out because he thought they were gonna go in his mouth,” she said at the time.
Surveillance video shows Shoulders standing on the corner when the sidewalk opens and he falls. He tries to hold on but can’t, dropping down as concrete and debris rained onto his head. People could be seen looking down into the hole after Shoulders' after, asking him to wave his hands to yell if he was fine. He was only able to do the former.
"He went down feet first," White said. "He was just standing and the sidewalk just — it was like a suction. Like a sinkhole. He just went down.”
Eventually, police and firefighters arrived at the scene and got to work, spending nearly half an hour to carefully pull Shoulders out. He has a long recovery ahead, suffering a spinal fracture, and about a month after ordeal was just starting to regain feeling in his legs, hands and arms.
White said her son is still traumatized by the fall, and she wants to know what caused the sidewalk to open up and swallow her son.
“It could have been anyone. It could have been anyone it was a whole scary situation. It was my son and thank God he’s alive," White said.
Following the incident, building inspectors found the area beneath the sidewalk in disrepair. Three businesses remain closed until further notice due to the sinkhole. According to the Department of Buildings, their investigation into this incident is ongoing.
"Potential enforcement actions are pending the results of that investigation," the DOB said following the incident, adding: "The Full Vacate Order is still in effect, and a construction fence has been erected around the building in the interest of public safety."
The building at the corner is still fenced off nearly a month later. Bagley has filed a lawsuit against the landlord of the building and the city for an unspecified amount of money.
"We feel they're both responsible for the maintenance of that sidewalk, which was in disarray and disrepair for many, many years," Bagley said. "He's going to be with these injuries probably for the rest of his life."
Neither the landlord nor the owner of the building offered comment on the lawsuit or the situation.