What do you call people like me? A ghoul? A rubbernecker? (bad choice of words, I suppose). It’s just that I seem to have a morbid fascination with the story about the doctor who had his head severed in the elevator. Over the past week there have been reports that he had a high alchohol level in his blood, and also that he tried to pry open the doors as the car was moving and attempted to step up into the elevator.
Of course, even if the above facts are true, all I can say is “So what?” That was a rogue elevator and the family will be compensated handsomely eventually.
Here’s this morning’s Houston Chronicle article. I’m pasting it here because they always disappear after 24 hours:
Aug. 30, 2003, 11:33PM
Report: Doctor’s actions disputed
Two witnesses differ over manner in which elevator accident occurred
By PEGGY O’HARE and ROBERT CROWE
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
The doctor killed in a freak elevator accident at a downtown hospital tried to hold the doors open with his arms and step up inside while the car was moving, says another doctor who saw the incident.
That claim — and other witnesses’ accounts of what happened at Christus St. Joseph Hospital when Dr. Hitoshi Nikaidoh, 35, was pinned between the doors of Elevator 14 as it began to ascend Aug. 16 — are included in a Houston Police Department report obtained Saturday by the Houston Chronicle.
A physician’s assistant on the elevator at the time was unable to find the emergency stop button before Nikaidoh was killed, the police report states. Karin Steinau, 46, of Bellaire, was trapped in the elevator for about an hour until firefighters rescued her. Part of Nikaidoh’s head was severed in the incident and was found inside the elevator car, the police report says.
Attorney Howard Nations, who is representing Nikaidoh’s family in a suit against the elevator’s manufacturer and the company hired to maintain it, said allegations that Nikaidoh tried to step into a moving elevator are unreliable.
Steinau — who has said the elevator doors closed on Nikaidoh, trapping him as he stepped through the doorway — is the best witness to accurately describe what happened, Nations said.
“She’s only a few feet from him,” Nations said. “She is the only person who can see both Hitoshi and the operation of the doors.”
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has requested a copy of the police report.
Hospital officials said they have not seen the police report and were not aware of conflicting witness statements.
“I personally am not aware of the eyewitness stories. We want all of those involved in the investigation to complete their reports so that we can better understand what happened,” hospital spokeswoman India Chumney Hancock said.
In addition to massive head injuries, an autopsy found that Nikaidoh suffered broken ribs and spinal injuries.
Though the autopsy report said Nikaidoh had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent when he died — enough to be considered legally drunk under Texas law had he been driving — the police report does not mention alcohol or intoxication.
Nikaidoh’s family disputes the autopsy’s blood-alcohol findings and is seeking independent tests of his tissue and blood.
Nikaidoh was on the second floor of the hospital’s George Strake Building at 1919 La Branch when he tried to get on the elevator around 10 a.m. that day. Dr. Canaan Harris — also on the second floor, standing outside the elevator — told police he saw Nikaidoh try to get into the car.
Harris left the hospital the morning of the accident before police could talk to him. But during an audiotaped interview at his private practice two days later, Harris told police he saw Nikaidoh approach the elevator and put his arms out, apparently trying to hold the doors open.
As the elevator was moving upward, Harris told investigators, Nikaidoh “put his leg up and tried to get into the moving elevator,” the HPD report states.
This caused Nikaidoh to be trapped by the elevator as it ascended, Harris told police.
Harris, 54, declined comment for this story when reached at his Nassau Bay home Saturday.
Autopsy photos do not support Harris’ claims, Nations said, because Nikaidoh’s head suffered major trauma while his legs were unmarked.
“If he put his leg up onto a rising elevator, and the elevator continues to rise, how does he get his head caught between the doors instead of his leg?” Nations said.
A hospital employee told Nations that Nikaidoh, when he approached the elevator, opened his arms in a gesture of surprise.
“He put his arms out to the side, but he was expressing that, `A-ha! It’s working today!’ ” Nations said.
Nations said he received that information from an anonymous caller, whose statements are not in the police report.
Steinau, who was in the elevator when Nikaidoh tried to enter the car, told police the doors “closed on” Nikaidoh as he stepped through the doorway, trapping him.
Steinau told police a sign had been posted for several days before the accident, declaring that bank of elevators was out of service. But when she walked up to the elevator car the morning of Aug. 16, she didn’t see any such sign. She told police she noticed nothing unusual when the elevator car arrived on her floor. She got on and pushed the button for the sixth floor.
Steinau told police when she first turned around, she saw Nikaidoh approach the elevators, and as he stepped through the doorway, the doors closed on him.
“At that time, the elevator started up,” the police report states. Steinau “immediately began to try and find the emergency stop button on the elevator but was unable to do so before the elevator had partially decapitated” the victim, the report states.
Steinau told police the elevator continued moving up before it stopped between floors.
Nikaidoh’s body, dressed in surgical scrubs and a lab coat, was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft, lying on metal bars that operate the elevator car, police said. Above his neck, only his lower jaw line was visible, police said. His two pagers, cellular phone and Palm Pilot were found on the floor of the elevator shaft.
When firefighters freed Steinau later, she was so distraught that she had to be taken to the emergency room. Police interviewed her the next day at her home.
Steinau could not be reached for comment Saturday. Calls to her home were not returned. It is unknown if she has returned to work since the accident.
Two other hospital employees, Colleen Galvez, 40, of Houston, and Christina Adams, 35, of Katy, told police they were on the third floor waiting for the elevator when Galvez heard a loud noise and screaming. The two women then ran down the stairs to the second floor, where they found blood everywhere. They ran back upstairs to get help.
Nations said he has received many calls from St. Joseph employees claiming the elevators had recurring maintenance problems, sometimes stopping or starting 3 to 6 inches below floor level. People also have told him the elevator doors acted erratically, continuing to close when someone was between them.
I’ve always thought that the worst way to die would be to fall through ice and not be able to find the hole where you fell in. The above comes in a close second. Since reading about this incident, whenever something goes wrong in my life I keep thinking that things could be much worse.