WRAL Investigates

Elevators popular at beach rental homes, but some argue they're an accident waiting to happen

Posted August 3, 2021 4:31 p.m. EDT
Updated August 3, 2021 6:24 p.m. EDT

A 7-year-old boy’s death on the North Carolina coast could spark a change in state law. Weston Androw was killed on the Outer Banks last month in a residential elevator accident. An elevator that, by law, doesn’t have to receive annual inspections like commercial elevators.

The obituary for the 7-year-old boy from Canton, Ohio, is gut wrenching. "He loved fishing, swimming, the ocean, being outside … He did not like wearing shoes." The child was crushed to death while on vacation in Corolla, when he became caught between the inner and outer doors of a residential elevator.

"It just broke my heart. As a father, it just broke my heart," says North Carolina Labor Commission Josh Dobson when asked about the tragedy.

Dobson oversees yearly inspections for nearly 25,000 commercial elevators, but not those in homes. "Even with the expansion of these private residential elevators, particularly on the coast, that are being used as commercial properties, we do not currently inspect those, because it’s not in the authority given to us under the current statute," he explains.

We asked Dobson if it was time for a change. "I do. I think it’s something that needs to be examined, and I think it does need to be updated," he responded.

Dobson has legislative support, including New Hanover County Representative Deb Butler. "Sometimes it takes a tragedy to understand just how significant these things are," she told us.

There’s still plenty to figure out, including the cost of more inspectors, defining which rentals would be regulated and liability in private homes. Dobson feels the details could save lives, "This is definitely a complex problem where all these things need to be hashed out before we haphazardly change the general statute."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission already urged rental home owners to shut down elevators until safety glitches can be solved. Dobson expects responsible regulation is next, "It is the role of government to figure out how we can keep people safe."

Dobson says it’s likely too late to pass new regulations this legislative session but says it should be a priority looking ahead to next year. In the meantime, he recommends rental property owners get elevator installers to re-inspect equipment.

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