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Residential Elevator Dangers Worse than Originally Thought

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ATLANTA -

Spring break is the first wave of family beach get-aways, but be careful before you book a house with an elevator. An expert says entrapment of children is a growing problem.

An elevator at home changed three-year-old Jacob Helvey's life. Still, four years later after getting trapped between the hallway's door and the sliding cab door of the moving elevator, his days are spent in rehab because of a severe brain injury. It seems so random, so rare, because most of us have never heard of anything like this happening.

But John Koshak, an industry safety expert, tells the state elevator advisory committee that it happens a lot. And he wants Georgia to tighten the residential elevator code to prevent more injuries.

It was after the 2001 death of an eight-year-old boy in a New England bed and breakfast elevator when Mr. Koshak says experts started piecing together other cases.

"The most striking stat was that, in New York and New Jersey, in the last 10 years, there have been over 50 children entrapped. And you go, 'Hey', I read it', and think it's just no way," he said.

He believes it's just a peek into what is likely happening nationwide.

Mr. Koshak says here's the problem -- the gap between the two doors is too deep allowing children to fit in and to get trapped.

The national standard for this space is five inches, but today's residential elevators often come with accordion doors which can make that gap much wider.

"In fact, at the Helvey home it was eight inches," said Koshak who consulted on the young boy's legal case.

The I-Team investigation into Jacob Helvey's accident prompted Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens to send out a warning letter to residential elevator owners about the dangers to children. Then, he called this meeting. He says he expects recommendations on his desk by mid-summer.

The commissioner said his biggest concerns are, "Safety, and then, 'Is it a reasonable solution?'

Like filling that too-wide gap with a space guard or adding sensors like you find on your garage door. Sensors recognize someone's trapped.

With Baby Boomers aging and home footprints going up not out, you'll see more residential elevators and experts suspect more accidents.

Mr. Koshak said, "I put this together at my expense. I'm here on my dime. I'm not representing anybody. I believe this is a problem."

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