Family of man killed in deadly elevator fall says elevator was unsafe

SEATTLE — A family is devastated after a Renton husband and father fell down a service elevator shaft to his death.

Chris Kitzhaber, 48, fell at least 30 feet down the shaft at the Avis rental car facility on 5th Avenue between Virginia Street and Stewart Street in downtown Seattle.

“His wife's a widow now,” his brother, Jeremy Kitzhaber, said. “His sons don’t have a dad … it’s a tragedy. My brother should still be here.”

Jeremy, who lives in Idaho with his family, was passing through the Seattle area on a family vacation on Sunday and was supposed to have dinner with his brother, who had started working at Avis a couple of weeks ago.

Instead, he received a call from his brother’s wife to hear emergency crews were attempting CPR and then, later, that Chris had died.

Jeremy Kitzhaber said his brother had raised concerns to his wife about the service elevator he used at work.

“He’s like, ‘I don’t like this thing. I don’t like using it. I don’t like using it at all,’” he said. “This is an accident that could have been prevented with property safety, in my opinion.”

“You believe that safety wasn’t there?” KIRO 7 asked.

“I believe that … there was insufficient safety,” he said.

Jeremy Kitzhaber showed KIRO 7 a photo that his brother had taken of the elevator, which looks like a vertical mine shaft. There is a handle against one wall and segments that appear to be some kind of ladder. A small, heavy-duty platform is suspended in it with what appears to be a rope to pull the platform up and down, like a dumbwaiter. In fact, Seattle police compared the elevator to a dumbwaiter and also called it a “single person elevator.”

The Kitzhaber family did not want to release the photo on Monday but Jeremy Kitzhaber pointed out his concerns.

“It's just a round cement hole and it's just a foot platform that you would stand on,” he said. “There's no safety railing that I could see around it.”

Labor and Industries is investigating and inspectors were on the scene Monday morning.

Jeremy Kitzhaber, who has stage four cancer, never expected to outlive his older brother.

He worries about Chris’s two sons, 13 and 10, who have high-functioning autism, his older daughter, and his wife, who has heart issues.

“They've been living, not paycheck to paycheck, but sometimes,” he said.

Jeremy Kitzhaber and his sister have started a GoFundMe account to help Chris’ wife with expenses, as they remember a man who was devoted to his family.

L & I reviewed its records for the past two years and said there have been no violations at the Avis site.

Avis did not respond to KIRO 7’s specific questions about the elevator’s safety, only saying “We send our thoughts and prayers to Mr. Kitzhaber’s family. We are investigating the matter and cannot comment any further at this time.”

As of Monday afternoon, Jeremy Kitzhaber said the family has not heard from anyone representing Avis.

To visit the Chris Kitzhaber GoFundMe account, click here.