Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Autopsy: Man who died in TIA elevator shaft was intoxicated

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TAMPA — A Pennsylvania man who was found dead in a Tampa International Airport parking garage elevator shaft in March was intoxicated at the time of the accident, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office has determined.

Chad Wolfe died from a "complete dislocation" of two upper vertebrae and a spinal cord laceration caused by blunt impact to the head and neck, according to documents released Friday.

Wolfe's palms contained "a lot of black grease," according to the autopsy report. The report, however, makes no conclusions about its origin.

"It appears (Wolfe) forced open (the) elevator door to gain entry into the elevator shaft," the report said, quoting Tampa airport police Detective Kevin Durkin.

Durkin was unavailable for comment Friday. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death an accident, but airport spokeswoman Janet Zink emphasized that Wolfe's death is still under investigation.

Durkin's statement "is based on evidence from the elevator doors, but that's missing forensics we're still waiting on from state and federal law enforcement," Zink said.

Both the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement are involved, she added.

Police said in March that Wolfe had been drinking before the accident. He had a bottle of vodka when his body was discovered. His blood-alcohol level was 0.17, according to the autopsy report. That is more than twice the 0.08 level at which Florida law presumes someone to be too impaired to drive.

Wolfe, a 31-year-old mechanic from West Newton, Pa., was last seen alive about 1 a.m. March 15 when he stepped onto Elevator 21 on the third floor of the Tampa airport terminal and rode it to the seventh-floor parking garage at 4100 George J. Bean Parkway. His carry-on bags and cellphone were later found there.

An employee reported that Elevator 21 was stuck on the first floor with broken glass inside. About 10:45 a.m., a technician discovered Wolfe's body on top of the car.

Wolfe also had an open wound to his left leg, as well as cuts and fractures throughout his body, documents show. An empty bottle of the antianxiety medication alprazolam was found in his pocket, and traces of the drug were found during the autopsy.

After the incident, an inspector from the state's Bureau of Elevator Safety found 17 safety violations on Elevator 21, including a broken locking device that allowed the doors to be opened by hand. It is unclear if that damage preceded Wolfe's death or was caused by Wolfe. Zink said the elevator is closed as the investigation continues, adding that the rest of the airport's elevators underwent an annual inspection after Wolfe's death that showed they comply with state codes.

Wolfe's family did not return calls for comment Friday.

Staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this story. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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