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Thursday, Apr 27, 2017
Crime & Courts

Lawsuit filed over death in Tampa airport elevator shaft

— The parents of a man who was found dead last year in the elevator shaft at Tampa International Airport have filed a lawsuit alleging that a malfunctioning elevator resulted in their son’s death.

Chad Wolfe, 31, of West Newton, Pa., was found dead on March 15, 2013, on top of an elevator on the airport’s first floor. An autopsy said Wolfe died after falling down the elevator shaft.

The lawsuit filed this week in federal court names the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, and Schindler Elevator Corp., as defendants.

“The elevator being used by Chad Wolfe at the Tampa International Airport failed causing his death,” the lawsuit states.

The suit said the airport and elevator company were both responsible for the upkeep and performance of the elevator but allowed the elevator to continue in operation when it was “not in proper repair.’’ The elevator also was not maintained properly, maintenance and repair records were incomplete and the airport failed to alert airport users of the “dangerous condition on its property,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Chad Wolfe’s parents, Margaret and Garland Wolfe, and the estate of Chad Wolfe. Neither his parents nor his attorney could be reached for comment Thursday.

Schindler Corp. released a statement Thursday saying it will fight the claims in the lawsuit.

“Schindler regrets whenever anyone is injured in connection with equipment it maintains,” the Schindler statement reads. “It has fully cooperated with the local police and state inspection authorities in their respective investigations into this unfortunate incident since it occurred -- over 18 months ago -- on March 15, 2013. Schindler will vigorously defend itself and strongly denies the claims made in this lawsuit.”

An airport spokeswoman said the airport does not comment on pending litigation but said the airport’s elevators are, and have been, safe.

“They have been routinely inspected as they always have been,” said Emily Nipps, a Tampa International Airport spokeswoman. “We believe our elevators are very safe.”

In a report completed in December by the airport’s police department, Wolfe was described as a man who had acted irresponsibly during and after his trip to Tampa on a Delta flight.

According to the report, witnesses on Wolfe’s flight from Atlanta to Tampa told investigators he had been drinking alcohol, popping pills and acting rudely on the plane. Wolfe was coming to Tampa with his girlfriend, Jessica Price; the two planned to later go to Daytona Beach for Bike Week, according to the report.

After arriving at Tampa International Airport, Wolfe took the elevator to the seventh floor while Price went to baggage claim on the first floor, the report said. A witness told police he saw a belligerent man banging on the seventh-floor elevator door, though it couldn’t be confirmed that man was Wolfe, according to the report.

Tampa Airport Police Det. Kevin Durkin, the lead investigator on the case, concluded in the report that Wolfe forced open the landing doors on the elevator. Wolfe then wrapped his arms and legs around “the elevator cable inside the shaft with the intention to slide down the cable to the elevator car roof,” the report states.

As he “descended down the elevator cable, friction wounds caused him to let go, falling to his death by impacting the elevator car on Level 1,” according to the police report.

Durkin stated in the report that it’s nearly impossible for someone who accidentally fell into the elevator shaft to be able to grab the elevator cable with both arms and legs.

The report says there is no video or witness who saw Wolfe enter the elevator shaft.

According to Wolfe’s autopsy, he had Xanax in his system and his blood-alcohol level was 0.17, more than twice the amount a person is considered too intoxicated to drive in the state of Florida.

In a previous interview with The Tampa Tribune, Wolfe’s father, Garland Wolfe, said his son weighed only 150 pounds and he couldn’t imagine him having the strength to pry open an elevator door.

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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