When I was 18 years old, I fell out of a five-story window. And I don’t know how.
I fractured my spine, right hip, tailbone, pelvis and lower left leg, collapsed a lung and was placed in a medically-induced coma for several days.
A few months later, I made several attempts to figure out how this happened. I went to the hospital and spoke to the EMT staff. I thanked them for saving my life. But unfortunately they had no information. I went to the police precinct that handled my accident and received a copy of a police report. This is the only document I have been able to gather regarding my accident.
I recently had surgery to remove some of the metal hardware that was placed in my ankle, which propelled me to again investigate what happened to me that night. I have contacted the NYPD and filed several Freedom of Information Act requests.
I have knocked on doors, returned to the building, been to 1 Police Plaza numerous times, reached out to attorneys, and contacted property managers and newspapers.
Despite all of that, I still don’t know how I fell from a fifth floor window.
This is what I do know.
In the few months prior to my accident I had begun to “come out” as a homosexual. I had only told several childhood friends that I had had my first serious, yet brief, relationship with a man. I still had yet to tell my family. I had begun my undergraduate studies in theater, where my identity as a young gay man was warmly welcomed by my peers. I began to explore the gay bars of Manhattan with my new college friends, where we danced our young, little hearts out. We did engage in underage drinking, but no drug use. I never parted ways with my friends to go home with a stranger. Not until the night of my accident.
It happened between “00:01” and “01:30.”
It was the night of November 11, 2006, so, technically, November 12, 2006.
My friend from high school, Rae*, and I had traveled into Manhattan from Brookville, New York, to meet another friend from high school, Sean. Rae was visiting me at Long Island University. Sean’s father has an apartment in Chelsea on West 24th St. Sean was currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Sean had broken into his father’s apartment. Later, when questioned by the police, Sean’s father assured the police that his 18-year-old son and friends broke into his apartment to engage in some secret underage drinking. The dad had no idea.
Rae and I took the train into Manhattan, leaving from the Hicksville train station around 7 p.m. We met a group of teenaged girls on the train, who were going to a party. We exchanged numbers and they invited us to the party.
Rae and I got to West 24th St via the subway. Sean let us in. We drank in the apartment.
The next memories I have are foggy recollections going in and out of surgery at St. Vincent’s Hospital. My first memory post-accident dates from about two weeks later, on Thanksgiving.
The last thing I remember on the evening of my accident is being in that apartment, meeting Sean’s college friends and welcoming his girlfriend when she later arrived.
That’s all I remember.
In March of 2007, Rae filled me in on the rest of the night from her perspective.
Sean stayed at the apartment with his girlfriend. Rae, Sean’s college friends and I decided to meet up with the girls we met on the train and attend their party.
When we got downstairs, we were approached by strangers who were selling fake IDs. Rae said I was disinterested and walked down the block. This is the last time Rae saw me.
Recently, I asked Rae again if she could recall the experience of being questioned by the police after the accident. She said that it was a long time ago and it was difficult to for her to remember. She did, though, say that my sexuality was a part of the conversation with the police.
The rest of what I know about that night is from the police report, conversations my family had with the police at the time of my accident, two brief phone conversations with the super (which ended with him hanging up on me) as well as what the super told other residents in the building.
Upon leaving the apartment building, I only made it 15 feet over to the neighboring awning. A man was getting out of his cab, a 44-year-old Russian man (or a 42-year-old Yugoslavian man, depending on the storyteller), a man who may or may not have been subletting the apartment where my accident took place. I was wearing sunglasses. He approached me to discuss my sunglasses (or I approached him to discuss my sunglasses). Or I asked to use the bathroom. We go upstairs to his apartment. I use his bathroom, or we kiss on his couch. I excuse myself to the bathroom. This man hears some noise. He knocks on the door. He contacts the super of the building. The super and this man go into the bathroom. They find that I have thrown myself out of his five-story bathroom window. Or he could have thrown me out the window.
A resident of the building claims that at the time of the accident the super informed them that I was thrown out of the window. Another resident of the building claims that the super recently told them I threw myself out the window.
Here’s what I know: I was far from suicidal at this moment in my life. As I said, I had just started to identify as a gay man and was exploring New York City after leaving the only town I had ever known. The last thing I wanted to do this night was die.
This man calls the police. EMTs retrieve me from the ventilation shaft. They bring me to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The police question Rae, Sean, Sean’s father, the girls we met on the train into Manhattan and apparently this man. The police report summarizes the incident in a statement given from this man. My name is on the report. The police and detective assigned to this case are named on the report. Yet the man’s name is not on the report.
On the night of the accident, my parents receive that horrible phone call in the middle of the night. My mom, father, brother and grandmother drive into Manhattan.
The police tell my family what happened. My brother shows the police a business card of an established lawyer based in Manhattan. The police tell my brother and father, “It’s better if you leave this alone.” The police mutter the words mafia to my father. My mother says, “People don’t just crawl out five-story windows.” The police tell my mother, “This is what happens to young men in Chelsea who go off and find themselves.”
Recently, I received a formal denial in response to a F.O.I.A. request I filed in August to gather any NYPD documentation or information regarding my accident. I spoke with a lawyer and have filed an appeal to gather more information. It has been over two months since I filed the appeal and the police recently informed me that I should receive any documents (if they exist) by the end of the month.
I have accepted that fact that I may never know what happened to me that night.
But this is my story. This is what I know.
The way my accident was treated by the police -- and even today when I describe this situation to (some) people -- there is a certain suspicion that maybe I deserved what happened to me that night. As an intoxicated, gay youth, this is what I had coming. Being considered a nonperson: this is what I had coming.
Since the accident, the trajectory my life has taken has truly been beautiful, beyond anything I would have anticipated. While I was recovering, I lived in my small-town nursing home with my grandfather, my great aunt and my other new comrades (Oakie, Buzzy and Emma). They have all now passed, but we shared some of the most delicate moments of our lives together.
The community I am from came together to support me and my family. Even the local ambulance journeyed into Manhattan to bring me to the nursing home. I returned to my studies a year later, where people I had only known for two months embraced me and still remain in my life today. I studied in Rome and watched my mother tear up at the Spanish Steps. I shared five years of my life with someone who will always hold a place in my heart. I am once again able to do yoga and cartwheels and handstands and dance.
I am writing this in part in an attempt to surface some new information on what happened to me. I also am writing this to shine some light on how the NYPD chose to handle this situation.
And lastly; I am writing this to tell my story. When I first attempted to gather information from the police in 2007, I was told that since I could not remember anything, I did not have a voice.
But here it is.
And if you find yourself in a position where your voice is being silenced, for whatever reason, speak up.
Because you have a voice.
* Some of the names in this story, other than the writer’s, have been changed to protect their anonymity.
If you have information about Ryan Casey’s accident, or know someone who might, please contact the newspaper at 212-868-0190 and we will pass it on to him.