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Empire State Building car zap mystery
By RICHARD WEIR DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, January 27th 2008, 4:00 AM
Shuttle driver Russell Valeev says his vehicle suddenly stalled on E. 35th St.
In the shadow of the Empire State Building lies an “automotive Bermuda Triangle” - a five-block radius where vehicles mysteriously die.
No one is sure what’s causing it, but all roads appear to lead to the looming giant in our midst - specifically, its Art Deco mast and 203-foot-long, antenna-laden spire.
“We get about 10 to 15 cars stuck near there every day,” said Isaac Leviev, manager of Citywide Towing, the AAA’s exclusive roadside assistance provider from 42nd St. to the Battery. “You pull the car four or five blocks to the west or east and the car starts right up.”
Motorists like Russell Valeev, 25, learn about it the hard way.
“The lights work, the horn works, everything. But it won’t start,” Valeev, a driver for Golden Touch Transportation said one recent evening as he sat in his 2005 Ford van with the hood propped open on E. 35th St., between Lexington and Park Aves. “It’s my job. No money.”
The 102-story building, at Fifth Ave. between 33rd and 34th Sts., has been home to broadcast equipment since its opening in 1931, when RCA installed an experimental TV antenna.
Since the 9/11 attacks destroyed the twin towers, the building has regained its status as the leading transmission site for commercial broadcast outfits, with 13 TV and 19 FM stations mounting antennas on its spire.
The Empire State Building Co., which refused to provide the Daily News a list of its antennas, denied it has created any “adverse impact” on automobiles.
“If the claim were indeed true, the streets in the vicinity of the building would be constantly littered with disabled vehicles,” the building’s owner said.
According to many doormen in the area, they often are.
“They park here on the block and when they come back and try to leave, they can’t start their cars,” said Martin Deda, a doorman at 16 Park Ave., which fronts E. 35th St.
“I’ve seen a lot of cars get towed away,” said a doorman at 35 E. 35th St. who gave only his first name, Joseph. “I see it all the time, at least 10 times a week ... I call it the ‘Empire State Building Effect.’”
Automotive experts and engineers believe the problem stems from radio frequency interference that’s “jamming” the remote keyless entry systems of cars.
The remote keyless entry systems operate on specific wavelengths assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, which governs the bands and bandwidths of TV, radio, telephone and other transmissions.
The FCC said it has not received any complaints regarding interference affecting autos in midtown, and Empire State Building officials don’t believe the claims.
Yet some phantom transmission appears to cause the remote keyless entry systems of scores of car owners to go haywire and stop talking to their vehicles.
Abe Quinones was a drug rep in September 2002 when he parked his brand-new BMW 325i on the south side of E. 35th St., just west of Park Ave.
“As I was leaving, I went to click the remote to lock the doors, but it didn’t work. I just thought it was the [key’s] battery,” he said. He locked the car the old-fashioned way, using the button on the door. When he returned, he was locked out.
“I was stuck there for three hours. I had to call for a tow truck,” he said, adding that the driver jimmied open his door. “The minute he stuck the key in the ignition the car started up.”
Lain Gutierrez, 39, a retired investment banker who lives in Times Square, nearly had to shell out $500 for a rental SUV when a friend’s Jeep Liberty suddenly would not start while parked on E. 35th St., west of Lexington Ave., last month.
“It was a bizarre, automotive Bermuda Triangle experience,” Gutierrez said.
For nearly three hours, “The car was sitting there dead.”
A tow truck driver told them about the radio waves zapping the car’s immobilizer chip. “We thought he was crazy,” Gutierrez said.
Then the car started right up.