Elevators are a mundane conveyance most of us give little thought to as they whisk us up and down in offices, hospitals, schools, stores and other buildings.
That’s because they typically work quietly, safely and efficiently. Occasionally one gets stuck, but serious incidents are rare.
Tragically, the Luzerne County Correctional Facility was the scene of just such an incident.
Corrections officer Kristopher Moules, 25, and prisoner Timothy Gilliam Jr., 27, fell 59 feet to their deaths in July 2017.
An inmate assault led to a violent scuffle that rumbled toward a closed elevator. A door failure caused a panel to swing open, and two lives were lost.
That tragedy prompted a flurry of actions: $63,875 in repairs to a door that never should have failed and a review of safety throughout the prison, a hero’s farewell for Moules that drew a funeral procession nearly a mile long, lawsuits from both the family and the county, a commemorative plaque, and proposed legislation regarding elevator safety.
That last is now known as “Kristopher’s Law,” and was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday. It creates a safety board including elevator experts armed with regulatory authority.
Wolf signed Senate Bill 934 as Kristopher’s mother Kitty looked on. Also in attendance were fellow corrections officers Eric Messersmith and Dwayne McDavitt, Luzerne County Correctional Facility Deputy Warden Sam Hyder, and members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.
• Creates an Elevator Safety Board that will conduct a monthly review of issues related to elevator construction, maintenance and inspection.
• The body will also have regulatory authority, including the ability to grant exceptions and variances to existing codes, and membership will include those with expertise in the safe operation of elevators.
Praise is due to two area lawmakers who introduced the measure: State Sens. Lisa Baker (R-Lehman Township) and John Yudichak (D-Nanticoke).
While the state Department of Labor and Industry is responsible for administering and enforcing elevator safety standards in Pennsylvania, the current board rarely meets and has very little power, Baker has pointed out.
“Nominal oversight, rarely exercised, provides flimsy public protection, so this measure represents a significant modernization,” Baker previously said. “Assumed safety is proving dangerous, and that is unacceptable.”
“The circumstances showed a flaw in the law pertaining to elevator safety,” Baker said this week. “With a surge of community advocacy, we passed remedial legislation.”
This week’s ceremony was, however, “cloaked in sadness, because of the young man of character and courage who we lost,” she added.
Nothing, of course, can make up for the loss from this freak accident. But this law is a positive spawned by what had been unthinkable.
Failing to learn from this avoidable loss would have compounded the tragedy. This law, at least, helps prevent that.