Force, Weight Said Factors in Elevator Shaft Fall
Posted January 30, 1997
CHAPEL HILL — According to elevator safety inspectors, a sufficient amount of impact in the wrong place, combined with a freshman's body weight, sent her plunging down a dormitory elevator shaft over the weekend. The student fell from the eighth floor to the third.
In a four-page report, the inspectors said a thin safety latch at the bottom of an elevator door was popped when Evelyn Bankov, an 18-year-old from Wilmington, was pushed into the doors. Her boyfriend, Thomas H. Suddarth, III, has been charged with assault for allegedly pushing Bankov, giving a malt beverage to an underage person and underage possession of alcohol in connection with the incident.
Suddarth's attorney has said the couple had been engaged in horseplay, and that the fall was accidental.
Bankov is said to weigh about 200 pounds. The maximum amount of pressure the elevator door can withstand is 250 pounds. Inspectors said that that weight combined with force could produce enough pressure to bend the latch, and enable the door panel to open much like a pet door.
According to state records, the elevator passed its last inspection two months ago with no violations indicated.
The elevator was built in the 1960s. North Carolina's elevator guidelines were revised three years ago, when all new elevators were required to withstand 1,125 pounds of pressure. Elevators already installed were exempt from the new standards.
Bankov is reported in good condition at UNC Hospitals, where she is being treated for a broken leg, internal injuries and serious cuts. She reportedly landed on her feet on the top of the elevator car, which had been stopped at the second floor.
The accident occurred in Granville Tower East, a privately owned dormitory, just off the UNC-CH campus.
Henry Madenspacher, chief of the elevator bureau of the Department of Labor, said incidents such as Bankov's were rare, even considering older elevators and those in residence halls, where they can be subjected to rigorous treatment.
There is a possibility that the warped door latch had been damaged between its November inspection and the time of the accident.