• Escalators in bus tunnel not upgraded with modern safety device

    By: Alison Grande

    Updated:

    KING COUNTY, Wash. - The family of a man strangled in an escalator in the Metro bus tunnel has won a $1 million dollar settlement with King County.

    KIRO 7 wanted to find out if those escalators are any safer.

    Maurecio Bell, 42, of Renton was strangled in April 2013.  Investigators say Bell was drunk when he fell and got stuck in the escalator.

    The Renton father was wearing a leather jacket with a hood that got entangled in the teeth.

    The attorney for Bell's family said a safety device, that is required by code in new escalators, would have saved his life.

    "It wouldn't have stopped Mr. Bell from being ensnared but it would have stopped him from being strangled to death," said Tomas Gahan, the attorney for Bells' family.

    The comb impact safety device shuts off the escalator if someone or something gets caught in the teeth at the end.

    According to the lawsuit, King County and the Port of Seattle hired a consultant in 2011 who recommended escalators be "modernized."

    The Port of Seattle has 80 escalators and has replaced 46 escalators so far. All of those replaced escalators have the comb impact safety device.

    King County has 40 escalators in the bus tunnel. Thirty-nine of the escalators have been refurbished, one was replaced. The refurbished escalators are only required to meet 1987 code, that's when they were built.

    They don't have the comb impact device.  But King County Metro says they do have the safety features that came with the escalators in 1987. "The escalators have emergency shut-off switches at the top and bottom, as well as 20 other switches that would automatically stop the escalator from operating," said Jeff Switzer, King County Metro.

    KIRO 7 asked why none of those switches worked to stop the escalator when Bell was being strangled. "It appears that none of the switches were triggered as a result of the incident," said Switzer.

    Gahan said King County Metro could have easily added the comb impact device safety feature when they were refurbished. King County said they didn't due to "cost and the disruption of such a project."

    "The county had the opportunity to install the comb impact devices in 2011 when they cracked all escalators open, spent millions of dollars, to refurbish all of them and they could have installed it then and they didn't," said Gahan. "My hope is that it will, that after Mr. Bell's death and after this resolution, which brings some closure to the family, that there can be also some improvement for the community. That we can get these devices in all the escalators."

    KIRO 7 asked King County Metro why it chose not to follow the consultant's 2011 recommendation to "modernize" the escalators.  "King County made the decision to fully refurbish the escalator steps and mechanisms instead of fully replace all escalators, due to cost and the disruption of such a project. King County's approach was to address the aging escalators by refurbishing them," said Switzer.

    Labor and Industries says the refurbished escalators meet code, 1987 code from when they were installed.  Step comb impact device was not required by Labor and Industries until 1995.

    Gahan hopes King County will add the comb impact device to all escalators now that the settlement is over.  He said a child was caught in the same escalator in March 2014.  The boy's shoe was stuck but his mom was able to pull him free.

    "If the safety features aren't stopping the escalator from trapping people or killing people, they need better safety features," added Gahan.

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