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Shoddy regulation, loose laws allow dangerous elevators to continue operating in San Antonio

Photo: ALEJANDRA RAMíREZ, License: N/A

ALEJANDRA RAMíREZ

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Photos from the TDLR's investigation into the Crockett show a jumper cable on the service elevator brake that never should have been there.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Courtesy photos


Gloria Rodriguez hit the sixth-floor elevator button in the century-old historic Crockett Hotel on the River Walk. It was a few days after Christmas in 2011 and she was cleaning rooms as she had done for more than a decade. Instinctively, she turned her cart as the doors opened to back up into the service elevator. But when her feet stepped backward they were met with empty space as she tumbled into the shaft.

At least that's the most likely scenario that led to Rodriguez's death just before 6 p.m. on December 28, 2011, according to Lawrence Taylor, the state's chief elevator inspector with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. According to authorities, there were no immediate witnesses. A worker sitting in her basement office heard a loud thump out of the service elevator shaft, however, but she and a night manager couldn't open the elevator doors. When emergency responders arrived at the scene they found Rodriguez's body lying at the bottom of the shaft.

Rodriguez's death was both tragic and preventable. The hotel contracted with Otis Elevator Co. to maintain the Crockett's machines. Although Otis is the biggest name in the business, a pioneer of the modern elevator, Taylor wrote in a May 2012 report that they'd done a shoddy job maintaining the elevator. He noted the "overall poor quality of maintenance" as a factor in Rodriguez's death; upon inspection the elevator showed signs that someone at the hotel had already noticed a problem with the service elevator's brake. Instead of reporting and solving the problem, however, the mystery repairman apparently tried, unsuccessfully, to jerry-rig a fix with a jumper cable.

"I mean, that report speaks for itself," said James Hada, a Houston-based attorney who earlier this year filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Bexar County against the hotel and Otis on behalf of Rodriguez's four children. "This death was clearly avoidable, it shouldn't have happened." State officials wouldn't allow Taylor to talk about his scathing review of elevator maintenance at the Crockett, citing an open investigation and pending litigation in the case. Crockett General Manager William Brendel declined to comment when contacted after the release of Taylor's report due to the ongoing court case.

What's obvious is that flaws in Crockett's service elevator should have been caught weeks earlier. Records show the hotel was two weeks late for its state-mandated annual inspection at the time of the accident. Yet even with such a stark reminder of how crucial such inspections can be, nearly 160 of 2,000 buildings in San Antonio had overdue annual inspections as of last week — some of which are now years past due, according to TDLR records.*

At the Rivercenter Mall, both a passenger and freight elevator haven't been inspected since March 2011. At the Tower of the Americas, the hallmark of San Antonio's skyline, the tower's three passenger elevators are over three months past due.

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