Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

Woman's death in lift accident calls for more scrutiny

The lift that Bob Blair built on the side of his Weeki Wachee house for his ailing wife, Jean, "has been very, very reliable," he said.

"We haven't had so much as a crushed fingernail. It's safer than a car door."

That may have been true for the more than 15 years of the lift's operation, but it no longer is.

Last month, the platform came down on a close friend of Jean Blair's, Margaret Harrison, crushing and killing her.

Last week, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office ruled that Harrison's death was an accident, which it no doubt was — a particularly sad and strange accident.

But it also seems strange that the construction of such elaborate devices is possible with barely any inspections or permitting.

In the aftermath of the accident, the Hernando County Development Department found only that Blair lacked an electrical permit. The penalty, if you can call it that, was the $84 price of the permit.

I suspected the department was being a little lenient, possibly out of sympathy for an 82-year-old man dealing with a tragedy.

If this was the case, the department was just a little lenient. The state building code gives the department the option to double the cost of the permit for completing work without one. In Blair's case, it declined to do so.

If that's the worst consequence — paying twice the permit price — then flouting the code seems like a pretty good bet. Next time the state Legislature revises the building code, it might want to toughen the penalties.

They might also add a provision requiring permits and inspections for a contraption of the size and complexity of large hydraulic lifts built on the outside of houses.

That's how this is classified, as a "lift." But from pictures (Blair turned down my request to come over and take a look), it appears to be little different than an exterior elevator.

The platform moves up from the ground floor to outside decks on the second and third floors. It's all powered by a hydraulic system salvaged from a forklift.

Elevators in commercial buildings are subject to heavy regulation by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Hotels and Restaurants, said DBPR spokeswoman Tajiana Ancora-Brown.

That the department does not regulate home lifts seems to be a gap in the code, though, true enough, it may not be a big gap.

How many lifts are there in the state, this large and available for use by visitors? Probably not very many.

But among the features Blair's lift lacked were safety railings on the decks, a sheriff's report said. And, clearly, there was not adequate protection from the space beneath the slow-moving platform.

It's clear that Blair, who has been trained as a welder and electrician, and served as the plant engineer of a large slaughterhouse in Texas, built an ingenious device.

But now that a life has been lost, it no longer can be called a safe one.

Comments
Memorials, crisis counselors at Lakewood, day after student dies in crash

Memorials, crisis counselors at Lakewood, day after student dies in crash

ST. PETERSBURG — Memorials are building and crisis counselors were at Lakewood High School on Wednesday morning, a day after a student was killed and two others seriously injured in a crash Tuesday afternoon.The fatal crash occurred just before 2 p.m...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

TAMPA — Dwight DuBose walked out of the Orient Road Jail on Tuesday night after trading an orange jumpsuit for a brand new polo shirt and slacks. It was about 9 p.m. He flashed a broad smile and hugged staff members of the Innocence Project of...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pasco teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

Pasco teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 17-year-old girl was killed Tuesday when her car was hit by a sport-utility vehicle that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.One of the occupants of the SUV who ran from the crash scene was captured hours late...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
He tried to rob two pharmacies. Both times he left empty-handed.

He tried to rob two pharmacies. Both times he left empty-handed.

TAMPA — Police are looking for a man who failed to rob two pharmacies last week.No one was harmed during the botched heists, but the man may be armed with a handgun, police said.Detectives on Tuesday released surveillance video that showed the man in...
Published: 04/24/18
FHP: Riverview motorcyclist critically injured in crash on I-4

FHP: Riverview motorcyclist critically injured in crash on I-4

TAMPA — A 41-year-old motorcyclist was critically injured in a Monday night crash on Interstate 4, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 7:15 p.m. Cristobal Padilla, of Riverview, was riding a 2004 Suzuki motorcycle in...
Published: 04/24/18
St. Pete police identify man wanted for stealing car — and baby

St. Pete police identify man wanted for stealing car — and baby

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are searching for a 19-year-old man accused of stealing a car left running with an 8-month-old baby left in the back on Monday.The baby was found unharmed by two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists a short time later, according to St. Pete...
Published: 04/24/18
A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

It started off like a regular pool day at her grandparent’s home. Elianna Grace, 4, and other kids were having fun, blowing water out of pool noodles at each other.Then, as Elianna was blowing water out one end of the noodle, someone else accidentall...
Published: 04/24/18
Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

TAMPA — In the wake of a female firefighter’s victory against the city in a discrimination lawsuit, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is being urged to name a high-ranking woman to replace retiring fire Chief Tom Forward.Earlier this month, Buckhorn said he will na...
Published: 04/24/18
Tampa man faces murder charge in September slaying

Tampa man faces murder charge in September slaying

TAMPA — A 68-year-old Tampa man faces a charge of first-degree murder following his arrest Monday in the September death of an Osceola County woman.Evidence from the crime scene led officers to James Jackson, police said.According to police, the body...
Published: 04/24/18