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Saturday, April 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State report links elevator accident to poor judgment

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A Kirkland man died earlier this year only after he and his four friends went to "extraordinary lengths" to escape a stalled elevator, prying open two sets of doors and wiggling their way through a 10-inch opening, said state regulators investigating the accident.

A report released Friday by the state Department of Labor and Industries said Jeremy Lynn Johnson, 25, died Feb. 20 after he lowered himself out of the elevator at Bellevue's Lincoln Square, then misjudged where his feet should land and fell down the shaft.

Johnson and his friends "did not seem aware of things that most people would be terrified to do," said Elaine Fischer, state labor department spokeswoman.

Johnson died because he and his friends "did not demonstrate clear-mindedness and good judgment," according to the report.

A safety device meant to keep the inner doors closed was installed incorrectly, though Johnson and his friends would have been strong enough to escape anyway, Fischer said.

The elevator company, Otis Elevator, had also promised to install a four-foot piece of metal that helps prevent people from falling down open shafts, but instead had installed a 22-inch model, according to the report.

The company has since correctly installed both safety devices on all four Lincoln Square elevators, as required by the state.

Johnson and his friends' determination in getting out of the elevator was unusual, Fischer said. Johnson and two male friends were "strong men," able to pull back the doors and then hold them open while their friends got out. And the elevator only stopped because Johnson and one of his friends jumped up and down while holding on to the handrails, Fischer said.

One survivor told Bellevue police more than a week after the accident that one of the men may have caused the elevator to stall by jumping. A second survivor told police that the group had become "antsy" in the stalled elevator.

After using an intercom to call for help, the group waited just a few minutes before trying to escape, the state report says. Anyone stuck in an elevator should always wait in the cab until help arrives, according to the report.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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