2 Investigates: After five-story drop in San Francisco elevator, accident victim wants change

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2 Investigates first revealed outstanding inspection issues with thousands of elevators in the Bay Area, earlier this year. Since then, a man who was seriously injured in a five-story drop inside an elevator in San Francisco says he wants the state and business owners to take stronger action to ensure passenger safety.

There are approximately 110,000 elevators in California, according to state officials. Of the millions of rides they provide every day, very few result in an accident. However, when they do, the results are often catastrophic, according to an expert who spoke to 2 Investigates.

That’s why, after a 2 Investigates report on elevator safety in February, Concord-resident Michael Jordan reached out to KTVU saying building owners and state officials need to hear his story.

At the time of 2 Investigates’ first report, more than 11,000 elevators across the state were red-flagged by Cal/OSHA for having outstanding issues. Of those, 756 were located in San Francisco. At the time, a Cal/Osha official said the list of issues wasn’t something the public should be “overly concerned about.”

“When I watched your interview, [the state] said just because an [elevator] permit is expired, it doesn’t mean anyone is going to get hurt. Well, I’m an example of somebody who got hurt,” said Jordan.

On February 22, 2016 Jordan reported to work at 333 Market Street in San Francisco. The 33-story skyscraper is owned and managed by Well Fargo and Jones Lang La Salle America. Jordan says he was installing card access systems when co-workers called him to another floor.

“Once the door shut, it started taking off like normal. It was going faster than it should. Then it felt like a bomb went off or something. I knew instantly I was hurt,” Jordan remembered.

The elevator Jordan was in had dropped five stories and came to jolting, painful stop. The series of events was confirmed through a Cal/OSHA inspector’s accident report obtained by 2 Investigates.

“It felt like my whole lower [leg] was busting out of my knee. It felt like my spine made like an accordion effect,” Jordan said.

Jordan said he was stuck in the elevator for 45 minutes until emergency crews could rescue him and take him to a hospital. At San Francisco General, doctors treated him for a bulging disc in his back and a fractured femur. Jordan said surgery wasn’t an option, so he still lives in pain.

“My youngest child is almost three years old, and I basically missed out on a year of her life,” he said. Jordan says it’s a struggle to play with his kids, is undergoing physical therapy, and hasn’t been able to return to work.

An accident investigation report showed a twisted lay making up one of the elevator’s ropes “broke and tripped the governor,” which is a device that triggers the safeties and brakes when the elevator goes too fast.

2 Investigates uncovered records showing, after Jordan’s accident, an inspector found the elevator had “a permit that was not current and the entire building was in need of re-inspection.”

Records also show that in July 2014, nearly two years before Jordan’s accident, the state ordered building management at 333 Market Street to shut the elevator down. Well Fargo said the Order to Prohibit Use was issued because they failed to pay a fee.

Records show management requested a new inspection in April 2015 the following year, but the state has no record of any inspection or a permit every being issued. The last permit that Wells Fargo was able to provide expired in January 2015, more than a year before Jordan’s accident.

2 Investigates spoke to a national elevator consultant named Michael Fagan, who is not connected to Jordan’s case, about the responsibilities of the state and building owners.

“The state is the ultimate lead authority on inspecting elevators,” said Fagan. “They really need state inspectors to go out and inspect elevators. They do a very good job with the staff they have, but they’re struggling to find people that are qualified.”

When asked if Cal/OSHA's inspectors are overwhelmed, Assistant Chief Council for Cal/OSHA Nathan Schmidt  told 2 Investigates, “We do need to, uh, get more inspectors hired and up to speed and we’re working on that.”

But ultimately, Fagan said, “the owner of the building is responsible, and has as a non-delegable duty for the safety of their elevators.”

2 Investigates went to the office of the facility manager at 333 Market Street. Facility Manager Josh Pettler said he would speak to Investigative Reporter Candice Nguyen after he was finished with a meeting.

Instead of coming out of his office, Pettler had 2 Investigates wait for five hours in the lobby in front of his office. At the end of the business days, Nguyen knocked and announced that the crew was still there waiting for their meeting. Pettler appeared to get up from his desk and stand in the corner of his office, out of view from KTVU cameras.

The facility manager never came out to speak with 2 Investigates. A Wells Fargo spokesman later provided a current permit for the elevator, which was issued in six months after Jordan’s accident. A spokesman directed 2 Investigates to talk to the state about the gap in the elevator’s permit history. But ultimately they never explained why they kept the elevator in use, apparently without a permit, for more than a year before the accident.

“They don’t care. They’re a big corporation who will try to pay me off and keep quiet,” Jordan said.

Jordan told 2 Investigates, not only is he dealing with long lasting physical injuries, he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I have a really bad anxiety and panic attacks,” he said. “Because of the accident my flight or fight senses are enhanced. I don’t sleep a few hours each night. I have a daughter and I feel like I missed out on a year of her life.”

In California, a permit must be posted in an elevator so the public can view it. Experts say if you do not see one or it is expired, tell building management to address the issue. 

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