Escalator dismantled in probe

June 21, 1994|By This article was reported and written by Sun staff writers Melody Simmons, Norris P. West and Mark Hyman.

Engineers and inspectors began searching yesterday for clues to the escalator accident that injured more than 40 baseball fans at Camden Yards last weekend, but they said it will take days to pinpoint the cause.

High-top sneakers remained stuck in the mangled steps as the escalator manufacturer and state officials began dismantling the three-story-high staircase yesterday morning.

State regulators said work would continue at the site through tomorrow but that it is likely to take longer to discover why fans were sent tumbling Saturday.

"They're looking at the brakes and they're looking at the shaft," said James A. Morkosky, safety inspector administrator for the state Department of Licensing and Regulation's Division of Labor and Industry.

Meanwhile, all four stadium escalators were out of service for last night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers and might not be working for games tonight and tomorrow.

The three undamaged escalators will be restarted after state inspectors and the manufacturer have checked them, but there was no estimate of how long the other one will remain out of service.

Witnesses have told Maryland Stadium Authority officials that the long right-field-side escalator, which was moving upward, made a cracking noise, reversed directions and stopped.

At least 43 fans were injured as scores of people tumbled atop each other in the accident, which occurred about half an hour before the Orioles played the Minnesota Twins.

At 7 a.m. yesterday, state inspectors, engineers, Stadium Authority officials and representatives of Montgomery Elevator Co. Inc., based in Moline, Ill., began to take the escalator apart. Investigators will examine the vehicle's intricate parts, state inspectors and insurance officials said.

"They are taking it down piece by piece by piece. They are being very methodical," said Vince Curran, an Orioles insurance consultant who was present yesterday as the escalator was examined.

As the engineers and inspectors worked in 89-degree heat, curious fans and onlookers wandered by the partly dismantled escalator. At the top of the escalator, which stretches from the ground level concourse to the stadium's upper deck, engineers met in small groups throughout the day to discuss the problem.

The mechanical parts will be photographed and marked by state regulators before being taken by Montgomery Elevator to a company facility. State regulators will not be on the scene as the company evaluates the equipment.

"I think we trust them," said Mr. Morkosky, the state regulatory official. "It's a reputable company. We've worked with them for years."

The escalators on the right-field side have caused problems before, though never as serious as the one Saturday. In the ballpark's first two seasons, the escalators frequently were closed, leaving fans to use ramps and elevators to reach their seats.

Those problems were caused by slight structural misalignments that occurred when the escalators were carrying full loads, said Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Stadium Authority. Safety devices on the escalators sensed the problem and immediately shut them down, he said.

"A shift of an eighth of an inch was enough to throw them out of whack," Mr. Hoffman said.

The escalators received major repairs during the off season, including improvements to structural supports. Mr. Hoffman said there was no reason to believe that Saturday's malfunction was related to the previous problems.

"This had to be something else," he said. "We don't know what it is yet, but we'll be analyzing parts and finding out what caused it."

About a month ago, an Oriole Park at Camden Yards escalator taking passengers down from the club level -- not the one that malfunctioned Saturday -- sent frightened riders to the ground, according to witnesses.

"Essentially, it was a free fall. It was like an amusement park ride," said Dr. Erik Rifkin, a biologist who recalled having to jump over fallen bodies at the bottom of the escalator on May 17.

Dr. Rifkin, who has club seats at Camden Yards, said he called Roy Sommerhof, director of stadium operations for the Orioles, the next day to seek assurance that the problem had been fixed and would not happen again. He said he never received such an assurance.

Mr. Sommerhof would not comment yesterday.

The Stadium Authority notified state regulators about the problem, said Mr. Morkosky.

Mr. Morkosky said the case was assigned to a state inspector but that a report had not been filed.

Mr. Curran said that after the May incident, team representatives contacted the injured fans and one woman who lost a pair of glasses was treated to an eye examination and a new pair of glasses.

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