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Inspector Is Never Bored on the Boardwalk

September 15, 1996|JOHN CURRAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Every morning, Sam Catanese goes looking for trouble.

As storekeepers roll up their corrugated metal doors for another business day and bleary-eyed gamblers walk out of the casinos, wincing in the bright sunlight, Catanese walks and bicycles the entire 4 1/2-mile length of the Boardwalk twice, looking for cracks, gouges, loose rails, uneven planks and exposed nails.

His job is to find them before someone's foot does.

"If it's dangerous for me, it could be dangerous for someone else. Someone walking fast, they could trip. It's better to be safe than sorry," says Atlantic City's chief Boardwalk inspector.

After all, up to 45 times a year, someone sues the city for a slip-and-fall injury incurred on the Boardwalk.

Catanese, a $27,351-a-year clerk for the Department of Public Works, patrols with a Polaroid camera and a tiny spiral notebook in which he documents trouble spots that he reports every day to the city's carpenters.

Up to 20 times a year, he is called on to testify in court about his findings. (It's one of the few times the New York Yankee fan takes off his Yankees cap.)

It's a big job.

Built in 1870 to keep sunbathers from tracking sand into hotels, the Boardwalk is a bustling strip 20 to 60 feet wide. Lined with casino hotels, pizza parlors and T-shirt and souvenir shops, it is a never-ending parade of people, vehicles and rolling chairs.

"Unlike many places, we have a lot of vehicle traffic because of the casino hotels," says city Business Administrator Andrew Mair. "It has to be able to handle fire equipment, construction equipment, delivery trucks, maintenance equipment. Ours get the kind of use that's different than anyone else's."

Typically, verdicts in Boardwalk slip-and-fall cases range from $5,000 to $75,000, depending on the severity of the injury and whether the victim can prove the city knew about the problem and did nothing about it.

That's where Catanese, 41, comes in.

"He's terrific," says City Solicitor Daniel Corey. "He's extremely conscientious. He's saved the city a lot of money by keeping such accurate records."

"Sam keeps records and says, 'I inspected this section of the Boardwalk, from such-and-such a place to such-and-such a place.' It goes a long way to proving we didn't have notice," Corey says.

Catanese has worked for the city since age 15and has been chief Boardwalk inspector for 2 1/2 years.

"I love the Boardwalk," he says. "It's just a positive atmosphere. People are cheerful. Even the beggars, they seem to be more friendly than other beggars."

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