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Death of woman crushed by lift in Weeki Wachee ruled an accident

WEEKI WACHEE — The homemade lift that crushed a woman in July is up and running again, and the tragedy has been ruled an accident by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Margaret Harrison of Spring Hill was a youthful 66, friends said, and healthy. How she ended up underneath the slow-moving lift, which she had used frequently at her best friend's home, had been a mystery.

Investigators theorize that Harrison tripped and fell while the lift was stopped above the ground, the Sheriff's Office said in a report released this week. As she tried to catch herself, she apparently grabbed a pole designed to lower the contraption and found herself under the falling steel-framed platform.

July 23 started as a quiet Tuesday. Harrison and her best friend, Jean Blair, whom she knew from the First Baptist Church of Hernando Beach, had planned to study the Bible while Jean's husband, Robert Blair, underwent surgery in Tampa, according to Jean. She said she had lowered the lift that Robert built almost two decades ago next to the Blairs' three-story house in Weeki Wachee.

She expected Harrison to arrive soon after they talked on the phone about 7:40 that morning, she told detectives.

By 9 a.m., Blair called Harrison's longtime companion, Frank Jorr. She had no idea where Harrison was, according to the sheriff's investigation.

When Jorr arrived and saw Harrison, already dead, pinned under the lift, he called up to Blair, who said this week that she remains shaken by her friend's death.

"I can't stop crying," she said. "I miss her every day."

Hardly able to walk with her artificial knees and heart problems, the 81-year-old Blair mostly stays in a wheelchair.

So while Harrison was mourned at a graveside funeral July 24 in her native Alabama, Jean Blair remained confined to her bedroom, her husband said. Their home's spiral staircase was unmanageable.

The same day as the funeral, a letter was mailed to the Blairs by Vic Heisler, an investigator with the Hernando County Building Department, notifying them that the lift violated county codes.

Robert Blair worked with the county staff to obtain an electrical permit for the lift late last week, and it was deemed fit to run that day, said Jodi Singer, the Building Department's operations manager.

Alison Barnwell can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or abarnwell@tampabay.com.

Death of woman crushed by lift in Weeki Wachee ruled an accident 08/07/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 11:04pm]
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