WILKES-BARRE — The state Department of Labor and Industry said Monday its certified inspectors examine the safety devices that prevent elevator doors from swinging in and out at the bottom — a malfunction that occurred at the Luzerne County prison last week before an inmate and correctional officer fell down the elevator shaft to their death.
An expert has questioned if these devices — called “gibs” — failed at the prison because they were worn down or improperly maintained.
If the forensic elevator expert — Stephen Carr, of California — is correct in his hunch, the pressure will be on the state to explain why the problem was not detected in its inspection.
The department did not release its inspection report of the county prison elevator, saying it is not a public record. At least two county officials familiar with the report said the state had indicated the gibs passed inspection.
Gibs keep the bottoms of elevator doors in their tracks, said Carr, who has handled at least four cases involving people who crashed through elevator doors due to problems with gibs.
The state’s elevator code required the prison elevator door to be constructed and maintained to withstand a force of 250 pounds, according to the state.
To elaborate, the door should not move, break or be permanently deformed if a constant force of 250 pounds is applied at a right angle around its center, the code says.
More details would be needed to determine if the force exceeded that requirement on July 18, experts say.
John W. Koshak, owner of Elevator Safety Solutions Inc. in Tennessee, declined to speculate on the Luzerne County case but agreed to explain the complexity of calculating force — a subject he has extensively researched, documented and highlighted in training sessions.
In simple terms, force is weight (mass) multiplied by acceleration (velocity) against an object, he said.
Inmate Timothy Darnell Gilliam Jr., fell backwards into the elevator door as he pulled corrections officer Kristopher D. Moules with him, according to the criminal investigation.
Gilliam weighed 220 pounds, according to an April court record, while Moules weighed around 195 pounds based on an online college athletic biography.
The unknowns: Whether the full weight of both men hit the elevator with equal force and the speed in which they advanced toward the door, Koshak said.
Koshak has been pushing for more awareness on the importance of properly inspecting and maintaining gibs.
“All of us have to be vigilant. If it doesn’t look right, write them up and replace them,” he said.
County Manager C. David Pedri said “something happened” that caused the door to open, and the county has retained an expert to identify the problem. He promised to publicly release the expert’s findings and implement any recommended corrective actions, but said he is not speculating on the cause of the malfunction until the report is released.
The state Department of Labor and Industry conducted an inspection of the elevator in April and found only a minor “housekeeping” deficiency that was corrected by staff, Pedri has said.
The criminal investigation concluded the fifth-floor elevator door at the county prison on Water Street immediately gave way at the base when Gilliam, 27, pulled Moules, 25, backwards and hit the door.
Investigators concluded the door swung out into the elevator shaft as if hinged at the top, even though the elevator is designed with a single door that is only supposed to slide laterally. The two disappeared into the shaft, with Gilliam still pulling Moules, and the door swung immediately closed behind them.
The men fell 59 feet and 1 inch from the fifth floor to the top of the elevator car, which was stationary on the ground floor, and both died of multiple traumatic injuries, officials said.