SCHENECTADY -- The man who was encased in mud from an early-morning landslide in late January will be filing another notice of claim.
This time, he’s filing it against Schenectady County.
Iquann Cornish, 20, claims the county failed to act, or failed to make sure the city of Schenectady, acted on making sure the hill that failed on Jan. 28 was stable.
Kristie Hanson, Cornish’s Schenectady-based attorney, said one of the main reasons the county should have acted was because of their involvement in the Schenectady County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan published in 2007. The report contained a map that showed the ridge where Barney Street is located as being susceptible to landslides. It's the same ridge along Broadway where the fatal 1996 slide and a 2004 slide occurred
County Attorney Chris Gardner said he doesn’t believe the county could be liable for the slide and the damage. He said he believes the county is protected through qualified immunity, meaning there are not enough resources to address each unstable hill.
“We do the best we can with the ones that have county roads on it,” Gardner said.
Cornish also filed a notice of claim against the city earlier this month. He said the city was negligent in not taking measures to secure the hill before it failed.
A notice of claim preserves a person’s ability to file a lawsuit against a government entity.
In an interview with The Daily Gazette, Cornish said he had been visiting his uncle, Reco Ross, at his apartment at 223 Nott Terrace during the week leading up to the landslide.
There was water coming down the hill from Barney Street that created a large piece of ice on the hill. He said it led to the basement of the apartment being filled with water.
The city has previously said the basement of 11 Barney St. was filled with water. This was because a water line serving the home had broken. City officials were forced to shut off water service to the building the Friday before the slide. Ross also filed a claim against the city in late February. In it, he said he suffered injuries and damage to his property. He also claimed the city showed “negligence, malfeasance and nonfeasance” by not adequately addressing the water line leak that was discovered at the top of the hill.
The city has not said what caused the landslide, even after it hired GPI Engineering and Construction to conduct soil boring tests on the hill.
Hanson said she submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to get the results of the soil tests but has not heard back.
The Daily Gazette also submitted a request for those documents.
The landslide forced the city to demolish several buildings on Barney Street and a garage on Daggett Terrace after the structures were deemed unstable.
The hill was then stabilized in late-February by Altamont-based Carver Companies. The city hired them for $94,500 to do the work.
When the landslide occurred, it was around 1:15 a.m. Cornish said he was lying down to go to bed. At one point he went to the bathroom and came back to go back to bed, but then he started hearing the crackling of trees.
That’s when he saw the walls literally closing in, he said. It was a scene Cornish said he had only seen in movies.
Then he blacked out. “I just woke up to me being stuck,” Cornish said. Cornish said he was covered from the neck down by mud and debris from the slide. He saw a huge piece of concrete hanging over his head that he worried would fall on top of him.
Cornish said he had trouble breathing and began to nod off. Every time he tried to breathe, he said, he could feel the debris suffocating him even more.
His 17-year-old cousin tried pulling him out using a microwave light to see. Cornish said his cousin had to keep slapping him to wake him up.
“I just took easier breathes,” Cornish said.
After almost an hour, firefighters tried to get him out by using a combination of the jaws of life and airbags. He said the dirt continued to fall in a bit more before firefighters eventually pulled him out by his arm, which he said he had lost feeling in.
Cornish was airlifted by a helicopter to Albany medical Center. He was released two days later.
The landslide caused several injuries to Cornish. He suffered broken ribs, bruises and abrasions all over his body. He said he’s still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, insomnia, night terrors and nightmares, and anxiety and depression.
Cornish also suffered nerve damage to his left leg, which has left him in a boot. He said the doctors told him he could possibly need surgery.
Cornish said he hasn’t been able to find a job since the slide because of his leg and has been looking for ways to get money.
“I try to ask my family for help, but they can’t help,” Cornish said.
He has been going to physical therapy and has been seeing a mental health counselor, he said.
Still, Cornish thinks the landslide happened for a reason. Even though things are rough now, he said, he’s leaving his future “in God’s hands.” But Cornish said he does want the city and the county to pay for their negligence.
“I just hope they give me what I deserve,” Cornish said.
In the meantime, Hanson created a GoFundMe page for Cornish, hoping to raise $50,000 to help him get by while he waits on a possible settlement.
To donate, you can visit www.gofundme.com/mudslidevictimrelief