Thursday, March 25, 2010
7 News Investigations: Risky Ride
You might be surprised to hear this. There's a good chance the elevators you ride in, in South Florida, aren't safe. In fact, thousands are operating illegally or can't pass inspection. One man found that out the hard way. Here's investigative reporter Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When you step into an elevator most people look at this, instead you might want to look up at this. The certificate that shows if the elevator is operating legally.
Ziv Tamir: "It was the most petrifying and most terrifying moment I ever had in my whole entire life."
A few weeks ago, Ziv Tamir stepped on an elevator in Downtown Miami.
Ziv Tamir: "Once the door closed, the elevator plunged down."
From the 15th floor flying down, floor after floor after floor.
Ziv Tamir: "Every couple of seconds or moments it felt like the elevator was trying to catch onto something, and it wasn't able to, and it would fall down even faster."
After flying down ten floors, the elevator slammed to a sudden stop.
Ziv Tamir: "I realized that my body was in tremendous pain, pain I never experienced before in my entire life."
The certificate of operation in the elevator had expired in 2008. Technically, it was operating Illegally.
Patrick Fraser: "An elevator falling 10 floors that's unusual, but an elevator that has failed inspections, operating illegally, very common. A few weeks ago, we started checking elevators and found many with expired certificates. Look at this one, it last passed inspection in 2004."
Robert Labby: "Now it has been inspected and has over eight violations."
This elevator at Century Village does not have a current certificate. When it breaks down, Robert Labby says it leaves elderly people stranded.
Robert Labby: "And when you're walking with a walker and in your 70s or 80s, it's not really good to walk from the third or fourth floor down here."
From South Dade to North Broward, there are more than 19,000 elevators. It seemed everywhere we checked the certificates had expired. From Jackson Memorial Hospital where these elevators have been operating illegally since July 2009 to this office complex in Broward, where Sandra says the elevators are a wreck.
Sandra Raphael: "The doors, some of them, tend to close on you. The sensor doesn't block it. On one of them the ringer is broken. The buzzer to alarm people if you get stuck in there is broken, and the elevator is technically in violation of code."
Mike Chavez is the chief elevator inspector for Miami-Dade County.
Michael Chavez: "The code requires that the elevator have a certificate of operation. Technically, the owner should not be operating it without a current certificate."
State law requires the owner of the building to hire private companies to maintain and inspect their elevators.
Tom Filteau: "These up here are the maintenance charts, and they have to fill these out."
A county inspector like Tom Filteau then checks the elevator from the top to the bottom to make sure the owners and private inspectors are getting it done.
If the elevator checks out, a certificate is issued.
Tom Filteau: "It needs to be inspected, and it needs to have a current certificate."
And 35 percent of the elevators in Miami-Dade and 40 percent of the elevators in Broward County do not have valid certificates. Meaning, 7,000 elevators in South Florida have not passed inspection. If you walk into a condo or office complex, odds are you are riding in one of those elevators.
Mary Shoemaker: "There's a lot of buildings here that have elevator problems."
Miami-Dade County is going to go after the condo and building owners that are operating their elevators illegally, and Chavez hopes the people who ride the elevators will demand inspections as well.
Michael Chavez: "I want them to go to their building manager and ask them why it's not current, and if they don't get a satisfactory answer, demand one."
The elevator may have failed inspections for a simple reason or maybe it wasn't a simple reason.
Ziv Tamir: "I felt like I was going to die."
Ziv's elevator had not passed inspection. If someone had not pulled the emergency stop button, he might not have lived to tell us about it.
Ziv Tamir: "All I could think about was my wife and my future baby and thinking that I won't be able to see them, and it was just an awful experience."
Ziv is lucky he survived his risky ride. The next person may not.