More repairs needed on Luzerne County prison elevator involved in deaths

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne County prison elevator involved in two deaths in July 2016 — and subsequent lawsuits — requires additional repairs that will delay its return to service and increase the project cost, officials said Monday.

Elevator contractor KONE Inc., of Mechanicsburg, has advised the county to replace the elevator sills, which are floor plates at the threshold of both the elevator car and landings, on six floors at the facility on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre.

The additional work will cost $88,931 and provide seven new sills for the elevator under repair and for the facility’s second elevator, according to a contract posted on the manager’s page at

Although labor is included, the work does not cover any necessary patching of the concrete floors, the contract says.

KONE was hired for $63,875 in April to repair the elevator, bringing the total bill to $152,806 with the sills added.

The additional work was “not warmly received” but must be completed to ensure all safety issues are addressed, according to Edmund O’Neill, the head of the county’s operational services division.

The sill work should extend the project two or three weeks, O’Neill said, declining to publicly declare a target completion date. Sills were not incorporated in the original project because KONE had limited access and warned it might identify additional problems after starting repairs, he said.

Prison savings on outside inmate housing in this year’s budget will cover the additional cost, said county Manager C. David Pedri.

“These elevators are over 25 years old, and a horrible tragedy occurred,” Pedri said. “We’re going to make sure they’re safe.”

The fifth-floor elevator door swung open at the base on July 18, 2016, when inmate Timothy Darnell Gilliam Jr., 27, fell backward and hit the door, pulling 25-year-old correctional officer Kristopher Moules with him, an investigation found.

The men fell 59 feet 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 have said.

The estates of both men have filed litigation over the elevator. The Moules litigation says the elevator door was equipped with a “wholly inadequate” and “undersized” guide and gibs, which “played a direct role” in the failure of the door. Gibs are devices that help keep the bottoms of elevator doors in their tracks.

Stephen Carr, a forensic elevator expert from California, told the Times Leader in July he believes the malfunction that led to the deaths stemmed from a problem with the gibs.

Gibs that are loose, old or worn can give way under pressure and swing in and out at the bottom like dog doors, Carr has said.

In addition to replacing the gibs, KONE’s original contract includes elevator shaft cleaning and a new door, elevator car roller guides, a control system, and a detector that prevents doors from closing while people are entering and exiting.

The Luzerne County prison has only two elevators. Relying on one since July 2016 has been challenging, said county Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich. The lone elevator generally operates nonstop during the day and evening for the transport of meals, laundry and inmates heading to court appearances and treatment, he said.

“It’s been an uphill battle here, and there have been points where the working elevator stopped,” Rockovich said Monday. “We are looking forward to having two elevators again.”

When the elevator now out of commission is cleared for operation by the state, the second elevator will shut down to allow KONE to install the sills and complete other work on that elevator, officials said. Enhanced security measures are necessary whenever contractors are inside the facility, Rockovich said.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.