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

Photo: ALEJANDRA RAMíREZ, License: N/A


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

In 2004, 5-year-old John Huxley Hammond was playing with his 2-year-old brother in the elevator inside his family's multistory Dallas-area condo. Investigators concluded he must have stuck his head through the open elevator doors, his head colliding with the second-story landing. A medical examiner said the boy died of "traumatic asphyxiation."

State data and court records show Rodriguez's accident at the Crockett wasn't necessarily a freak occurrence. Over the past six years, Texas has logged at least 165 elevator accidents and two elevator-related deaths, according to records from the TDLR. In February 2008, Keith Axell, a maintenance worker, fell down a Beaumont elevator shaft when a counterweight knocked him off balance, according to a state report on the incident.

In late 2006, Norman Fulton, 75, fell 12 stories down an elevator shaft in a Houston-area condo building. The city of Houston, the only city in Texas to regulate elevators instead of the state, failed to fully investigate the death. When the TDLR swooped in to draft its own report, it wasn't given enough information to do so, the department said at the time.

According to state records and lawsuits filed in Bexar County, at least 10 people in San Antonio have claimed injury by local elevators over the past five years. That includes a 45-year-old female passenger at a UT Health Science Center elevator in November 2009 who reported being pinned by closing elevator doors. Last summer, another woman complained a UTHSC elevator suddenly dropped three floors. On December 27, 2010, Sharon Chandler-Wiley left work at downtown's Weston Centre, heading into an elevator in the building's parking garage. According to a lawsuit she filed against Otis, the elevator landing wasn't even with the floor and she fell nearly a foot when she walked inside. She landed on the ground, injuring her shoulder, hip, neck and chest.

Chandler-Wiley's lawyer, Curt Cukjati, declined to make her available for an interview last month, citing health concerns, adding that he was on the verge of settling the case with Otis. "There's no question that elevator was not at floor level when my client walked into it," he said. "That led to very serious health problems for my client." Chandler-Wiley's fall opened up scars from a heart surgery of two years prior, Cukjati claimed, and she had to undergo three more surgeries that year as a result. A cardiologist blamed many of her later complications on the elevator injury, the lawsuit states.

On-time elevator inspections have been an issue at the Crockett in the past, records on file with the TDLR show. Throughout the 1990s, the hotel repeatedly failed to file inspection reports on time. Meanwhile, the Crockett was allowed an exhaustive list of waivers by the TDLR, meaning the hotel was given leeway to delay installing state-required safety measures and upgrades. Some of those waivers lasted as long as a decade. Susan Standford, a TDLR spokeswoman, defended the waivers: "TDLR doesn't grant a waiver that would put the public safety in imminent danger."

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