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  1. Business

Family of man who died in fall down Tampa International Airport elevator shaft sues

TAMPA — The family of a Pennsylvania man who died last year after falling down a parking garage elevator shaft at Tampa International Airport has filed a wrongful death suit against the elevator company and the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Chad Wolfe, a 31-year-old mechanic from West Newton, Pa., was last seen alive around 1 a.m. on March 15, 2013, when airport officials said he was seen entering Elevator 21 on the terminal's third floor. He took the elevator to the seventh floor parking garage, officials said, where his carry-on bags and cellphone were later found.

An airport employee later reported finding the elevator with broken glass inside, stuck on the first level. Then at 10:45 a.m., officials said, Wolfe's body was found on top of the elevator car.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office also determined that Wolfe was intoxicated when he died. His blood-alcohol level was 0.17, according to the autopsy report. In Florida, the level at which a driver is presumed impaired is 0.08 percent.

Airport police said bottles of vodka and the antianxiety medication alprazolam were found in Wolfe's pockets, and the autopsy report said the drug was also found in his system. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled his death an accident.

An airport police report later said that "it appears (Wolfe) forced open (the) elevator door to gain entry into the elevator shaft."

But the lawsuit filed Sept. 26 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court said Wolfe died because "the elevator malfunctioned causing his death," which was the result of "negligence" by the Aviation Authority, which oversees TIA, and the company that built and maintained the elevator, Schindler Elevator Corp.

The company also "breached its duty" by "failing to properly inspect, maintain and repair the elevator at Tampa International Airport, whose defects and improper maintenance ultimately caused the death of Chad Wolfe."

"Schindler regrets whenever anyone is injured in connection with equipment it maintains," the company said in a statement. "It has fully cooperated with the local police and state inspection authorities in their respective investigations into this unfortunate incident since it occurred — over eighteen months ago — on March 15, 2013. Schindler will vigorously defend itself and strongly denies the claims made in this lawsuit, which has just been filed."

Airport spokesman Emily Nipps declined to comment Thursday about the lawsuit. She said the elevators were last inspected in August and found to be safe.

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