State leader responds to I-Team home elevator investigation - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

State leader responds to I-Team home elevator investigation

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

Residential elevators are in many newer homes. They're not just for the rich. With an aging population and houses built up, not out, elevators are becoming more common.

The convenience could pose a dangerous risk for children. What the FOX5 I-Team uncovered was so alarming the insurance commissioner said he wants to do something.

Georgia State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said what happened to toddler Jacob Helvey should not happen to another child.

The Helveys had a residential elevator installed for an elderly, live-in relative who couldn't manage the stairs. They loved it until Christmas Eve four years ago. Jacob Helvey's day started with playing, thinking of santa, but it ended with brain damage after he was crushed by the family's home elevator.

Brandi Helvey ran upstairs and in that short time, Jacob opened the elevator's hallway door and got in, but he never opened the cab's accordion gate. So this left him trapped between the two doors.

The family believes the toddler was crushed once the elevator started moving.

Brandi ran downstairs - pulled open the locked elevator door in the hallway to find her toddler trapped. The family says they assumed like a commercial elevator it wouldn't move if there was a problem.

Insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens plans to get a message to families with home elevators. "We're going to send a personal letter from me to each of the homeowners" Hudgens said in an exclusive interview. 

"We're going to ask them to go to your link and view this story that you have on your web site regarding the safety of elevators" Hudgens added. 

Meantime, the state's residential elevator committee plans to strategize about how to keep children out of the space between the two doors.

At the top of the list for critics is the gap between the hallway and accordion doors. It's wider than most safety codes designed with children in mind - like the ones for stair spindles and crib slats.

The national standard for residential elevators is five inches. An 8-year-old boy in New England slid into a similarly sized gap and was killed.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers sets the standard for this space. According to an engineer formerly with ASME, the non-profit group talked for years about closing that gap but still hasn't.

The I-team has asked repeatedly for ASME to talk about why its group, filled with industry insiders, maintains the five-inch gap. We are repeatedly told "..no comment."

Meantime, the Helveys had a space guard made, cheaply, to attach to the hallway door so that no one, much less a child, can fit into the space.

The company that sold the Helvey's elevator calls this a "tragic accident", not "faulty design." The company ultimately settled a lawsuit with the Helveys. This issue has now captured the attention of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has launched its own investigation.

In the meantime, the commission is warning parents to be aware that residential elevators can be a "very serious hazard."

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