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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


The day after Rodriguez died, the TDLR's Taylor drove to San Antonio to meet with the Crockett's general manager, a rep with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and several Otis reps and company lawyers. The owners told Taylor the elevator inspections on the Crockett and Menger hotels, at that point two weeks late, had been scheduled but were postponed because too many workers were out for the holidays. When Taylor left to go check elevators at the neighboring Menger Hotel, three were out of compliance and had to be shut down until repairs were made, the report states.

Once inside the Crockett, Taylor's report notes a number of troubling findings. He writes that the paper wiring diagrams found in the elevator machine room were so worn and torn that portions showing critical operating circuits were "illegible."

Taylor also found what appeared to be a used service elevator brake in the machine room, indicating it had been recently replaced, but no record of the replacement and no evidence the new brake had been tested to state standard. When he tried to run the elevator car the next day, Taylor notes the brake gave off an acrid smell. The service elevator, meanwhile, continued to creep up the shaft after stopping at a landing. "This was a matter of grave concern," he wrote.

Taylor later found the service elevator brake hadn't been assembled correctly. When he asked one of the Crockett's maintenance contractors to fix it, "I noted that none of the maintenance people seemed to know exactly how to do this nor did they use their own written instructions which were available."

Taylor then honed in on something more troubling: the jerry-rigged circuit.

Taylor concluded someone knew there was a problem with the brake but didn't fix it. There was also no way of telling how long it had been working improperly. Clearly it was an "intentional and deliberate act and would only have been undertaken in response to some noted abnormality by someone with unique knowledge of the elevator equipment controls," Taylor wrote. "Someone with special knowledge of the elevator control system knew that there was a problem with the brake and intentionally installed a jumper and moved wires in an attempt to overcome the problem(s). However, no one actually did anything meaningful or effective to uncover the real problems(s) and embark on a course of action that would have solved the problem and prevented this tragic event."

The TDLR says it still has an ongoing investigation into the Crockett and wouldn't say whether officials were considering imposing fines against the hotel or if they would refer the case to the Texas Attorney General's Office for possible prosecution for violation of Texas elevator laws.

Emails provided in an open records request to the TDLR, however, may give an indication of how the department will sway. In late April after George Ferrie, director of the TDLR's code and inspections review department, read a draft of Taylor's report, he emailed Christina Kaiser, TDLR's director of enforcement, with his own thoughts.

"In his report, he (Taylor) identified some items of great concern," Ferrie wrote. Some of those items, he wrote, "appear to be violations of the Elevator law and rules."

 

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* Due to erroneous state records, this story originally reported that the Milam Building (115 East Travis), University Hospital (4502 Medical Drive), and Omni Mansión Del Rio (112 College) were overdue for inspections. The TDLR has since confirmed all three buildings are in compliance. The Current regrets the error.

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