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April 28, 2006

L&I investigation finds elevator tragedy a preventable accident

TUMWATER — An extensive investigation by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) found that a series of actions by elevator passengers led up to the accident that resulted in the death of Jeremy Johnson at Bellevue’s Lincoln Square Feb. 20. Johnson fell to his death while crawling out of an elevator that had stopped partway between floors.

L&I’s investigation found that several of the passengers caused the elevator to stop by holding on to the handrail and jumping. The jumping motion tripped the over-speed switch, a safety device that automatically stops the elevator if it goes too fast.

The passengers then used the emergency call button to call for help and were told that help was on the way. After waiting a few minutes, they began to exit the elevator on their own rather than wait for assistance.

“In general, elevators are very safe and have multiple built‑in safety features to prevent passengers from harm and from harming themselves,” said Jack Day, L&I’s chief elevator inspector. “This tragedy was a preventable accident, and we hope the public hears the message to take elevator safety seriously.” Day added that he doesn’t know of any other instance in Washington state where a passenger was killed in a public elevator.

The investigation report shows that the following sequence of events occurred:

  • Some of the passengers began inappropriately jumping up and down in the elevator, causing it to stop between floors.
  • The passengers were told that help was on the way but did not wait.
  • They began prying open the elevator-car doors. Using significant effort, they overwhelmed the safety device that keeps the doors from opening.
  • They had to continuously hold the doors open to resist the door motor, a device that continuously forces the doors to remain closed.
  • The passengers then forced the hoistway doors open so they could exit the elevator into the lobby. This required disabling the hoistway lock, a device that keeps the lobby doors from opening to an exposed elevator shaft. This action put the passengers and others in extreme danger from exposure to the elevator shaft.
  • The passengers, one at a time, began to crawl out of the elevator on their stomachs, feet first, through a 10¾-inch opening, dropping down to the lobby floor and landing on their feet in front of the exposed elevator shaft.
  • As the passengers exited, they were assisting each other while also using their hands and feet to continuously hold open both sets of doors. The first four passengers were able to crawl out and land safely on the lobby floor.
  • The last passenger to exit, Mr. Johnson, slid out of the elevator and instead of landing feet first on the lobby floor, slipped into the elevator shaft and fell to his death.

The Lincoln Square elevator was a new elevator that had been installed and approved for operation last October. As a result of the recent investigation, L&I required the elevator company to make two corrections to all four of the Lincoln Square elevators.

There are more than 23,000 elevators in public use in Washington state. Injuries, which are rare, are most commonly from tripping or being struck by closing doors. L&I investigates a number of these incidents each year; however, most could be prevented with education and awareness of elevator safety.

L&I reminds people to keep the following safety tips in mind when riding an elevator:

  • Never try to climb out of the elevator.It may start moving, or you could be at risk of falling. You are safe in the elevator until qualified personnel come to your assistance.
  • If you find yourself in a stuck elevator, stay calm.
  • Use the emergency button or phone to call for help and advice.
  • Never reach out to stop a closing door.  Not all doors will reopen, and it isn’t worth the risk. Wait for the next elevator.
  • Check to make sure the elevator is level with the floor when it comes to a stop and the doors open.  If it is not level, you could trip and fall.
  • In case of a need to evacuate the building, use the stairs, not the elevator.

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Media contact: Elaine Fischer at 360-902-5413 or at nele235@LNI.wa.gov. Or visit the L&I News and Media Center at www.LNI.wa.gov/News.

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