Elevator falls have workers in Houston tower using stairs By BILL MURPHY
At St. Joseph Hospital, her home for more than a month, Deborah DeRouen began describing the Dec. 9 elevator accident that left her with compound leg fractures and a fractured vertebra. But she didn’t get too far before she choked up with tears.
Ive been sorting through it all a lot. I just get scared again, the 54-year-old financial consultant said Wednesday.
She was severely injured when an elevator at the 717 Texas building at Texas and Milam in downtown Houston precipitously fell from the 27th floor to the 23rd floor. She described the descent as an initial freefall that ended as quickly as it began when an emergency brake kicked in.
Although elevator accidents are rare, this was not the only one at the 33-story building in recent weeks. Two people were injured Monday when a nearby elevator in the same elevator bank dropped suddenly from the 27th floor to the 25th floor.
Some employees of the upper floors at 717 Texas are so spooked by the accidents that they have taken to walking down more than 20 stories to reach the first floor.
My employees all took the stairs (Monday). They wouldn’t take the elevator, said an employee who works on the 27th floor and asked not to be identified because he was unsure company managers would approve of his doing an interview.
Hines, which owns and manages the building which was completed in 2003, has shut down the two elevators that malfunctioned, but continues to operate other elevators in the same bank while they search for the cause of the accidents, according to e-mails that Hines has sent to tenants.
Elevators were being run at half-speed while Hines investigates the problem, the company said in an e-mail.
The city’s elevator inspector has given Hines the go-ahead to operate the remaining elevators in the bank while Hines investigates the cause of the accidents, said Alvin Wright, spokesman for the city public works department.
As long as (Hines) is making the effort to take care of their responsibilities, they are handling their responsibilities correctly, Wright said.
The city is investigating the two accidents but is awaiting Hines reports on its investigations into their causes, Wright said.
The elevators last passed an annual city inspection in October 2007, Wright said. The city, he said, was in the process of arranging an inspection when the Dec. 9 accident happened.
Kim Jagger, Hines director of corporate communications, declined an interview but e-mailed a statement to the Chronicle: There is a problem with our elevators at 717 Texas, and were working around the clock to fix it. We have also taken preventative measures to minimize further entrapment risk.
Stephen Boutros, a lawyer, has filed a lawsuit against Hines and Fujitec, the company that maintains the elevators, on behalf of DeRouen. Boutros said Hines should shut down all the buildings elevators until the cause of the crashes has been determined.
DeRouen said, I have lots of friends who work there. People I talk to are terrified to use the elevators.
On Dec. 9, DeRouen, who has been working as a contract consultant for Rosetta Resources on the 27th floor, said she finished work about 5:30 p.m.
I pressed one, and it started free-falling really fast, DeRouen said.
Sent airborne during the descent, she slammed hard into the floor when the elevator suddenly halted at the 23rd floor.
Her tibia bone tore through her leg between her knee and ankle, creating a long wound. Her ankle and toes on her left leg were fractured.
The elevator door wouldn’t open, so employees on the 23rd floor could not come to her aid as she pierced the air with screams, Boutros said.
They kept her talking, though, worried that she might lose consciousness otherwise, she said.
It took a half-hour for help to arrive, Boutros said.
She has undergone several surgeries on her leg and will undergo at least two surgeries to repair the fractured lower vertebra and ruptured discs, Boutros said.
On Monday, Carleen Naumann, a sales representative for Besco Tubular, and Allan Keel, president of Crimson Exploration, were injured when an elevator dropped precipitously from the 27th floor to the 25th floor.
They were trapped in the elevator for a short time. Keel said he suffered a minor back injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
Later, called ambulance
Naumann, of Katy, also declined treatment Monday. But she said she called for an ambulance after she got up Tuesday morning and her nose was bleeding. Her ankle also was hurting, she said.
Staff at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Katy determined she had fractured a vertebra in her lower back, she said.
The elevator was flying. I thought we went down 15 stories. I was shocked to hear it was only two, she said. I was airborne and then it was as if we hit bottom.
In e-mails sent Monday and Tuesday, Hines told building tenants that it has brought in its elevator maintenance company, Fujitec, and elevator consultant, Persohn Hahn, to determine what is causing the accidents.
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