Advertisement
  1. News

Key safety step missed in fatal elevator accident

Published Apr. 27, 2013

ST. PETE BEACH — It could be months before investigators know exactly why an elevator at the TradeWinds Island Resorts fell on Mark Allen Johnson.

But on Friday, authorities revealed what may be a key clue. Although a hotel staffer locked the car on an upper floor before Johnson and a co-worker began cleaning out the bottom of an elevator shaft on Wednesday morning, main power to the elevator itself was not completely turned off, according to Lt. Joel Granata of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue.

Firefighters who arrived to recover Johnson's body after the accident almost immediately noticed the missed safety step — known as "Lockout/Tagout," Granata said.

The procedure requires a person to physically shut off power to an elevator, usually in an electrical room. A lock is placed on the power lever, and only the person who holds the key to the lock can restore power. Experts say this precaution is considered crucial whenever someone is working in an elevator pit.

"According to our technical rescue team on scene, that elevator was not locked out," Granata said.

That still doesn't completely explain what caused the elevator — which firefighters estimated weighed about 3,500 pounds — to plunge onto Johnson as he vacuumed water from the pit of the elevator.

Johnson and another worker had worked for about 40 minutes before the accident happened, officials said. It's unclear whether there was anyone licensed to work on elevators on the scene at the time as required by state law.

Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office are investigating the 45-year-old Tampa man's death. Both agencies said they did not have any updates in the case Friday and declined further comment.

"At this point, we just don't know what happened," said Keith Overton, president of the TradeWinds.

On Thursday, the state sent someone to examine the elevator. Inspector Frank Matuszewski found 13 violations, including not having the electrical junction box securely fastened to the wall, lights that weren't bright enough, an emergency bell that didn't work and a leak in the muffler.

That shocked Overton.

On Monday, just two days before the accident, a private inspector looked at the hotel's elevators. All of them — including the one that fell on Johnson, passed. Overton said he believes the violations the state inspector found happened as a result of the accident. He said the hotel had another inspector out at the property Friday, but has not received a final report.

Sandi Copes Poreda, a spokeswoman for Florida's Department of Business & Professional Regulation, said the state will likely follow up with the first inspector.

She also said Johnson, who worked for environmental cleanup company SWS, was not a certified elevator technician.

"Anyone working inside the elevator or hoistway must either be a Certified Elevator Technician or under the direct supervision of a Certificate of Competency holder," Poreda said in an email. "We do not know whether the other worker on site was licensed."

Overton said he didn't know either.

TradeWinds hired a company to clean out water from the elevator shaft after the inspector noticed it there Monday. The company then subcontracted with SWS, Overton said.

Fatal elevator accidents are rare. In 2011, there were just 38 deaths related to elevators in the United States, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. Three of those fatalities were in Florida.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  2. Neeld-Gordon Garden Center, open at this location since 1925, is closing on Sept. 28. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The development of Pinellas County and the arrival of the big box stores helped hasten the store’s demise.
  3. Suzanne Natzke, an artist and teacher with the Pasco Fine Arts Council, arranges her watercolor paintings for an upcoming exhibit, 'Moments in Time.' The exhibit will be held through Oct. 21 at the council's new gallery at Avalon Park West in Wesley Chapel. MICHELE MILLER  |  Michele Miller
    The countywide Council will exhibit work at the Avalon Park West community.
  4. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.
  5. A still image from a 2014 video of Granville Ritchie's interrogation with Temple Terrace detectives the day after 9-year-old Felecia Williams vanished. He is now on trial for her murder. JAMAL THALJI  |  [Photo courtesy of WTVT-Ch. 13]
    Jurors watched his interrogation the day after Felecia Williams was last seen in 2014. “This situation is very complicated for me,” he told police.
  6. Tampa investor and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning Jeff Vinik, right, speaks about his investments in the video game industry at the eSports Summit Wednesday in Tampa as Matt Samost, Vice President of New Ventures for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment looks on. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A summit at USF brought together major players and explored the possibility of an esports arena.
  7. Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. Courtesy of Lynn Cristina
    My husband and I usually divide and conquer on the parenting front — and I was a man down.
  8. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, now faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    Falo Kane now faces a total of seven counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person.
  9. Female driver texting on mobile phone while driving. STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS
    Police are choosing to issue warnings instead of tickets — so far.
  10. 7-Eleven Inc. is opening its first location in a Brandon mall. Pictured is a location in Port Richey in 2018. | [Times (2018) TYLISA JOHNSON | TIMES  |  TyLisa Johnson | Times
    It is the first of eight mall locations opening this year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement