Ballpark escalator to get different drive system

October 18, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

The mechanical system used in the escalator that collapsed at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in June will not be used in the ballpark again and will not be produced any more, said the escalator's manufacturer.

Timothy L. Duin, vice president of risk management at Montgomery Elevator Co., said the company will install a standard type of drive system that has been used widely for about 30 years.

The failure of the 55-foot escalator -- the ballpark's longest -- in June sent 43 people to local hospitals. Investigators found that the drive shaft had snapped.

Meanwhile, the company is contending that a 17-year-old Ellicott City boy was partly responsible when he was hurt in the accident. The firm said he had assumed the risk of injury when he boarded the escalator. The teen-ager's parents are suing Montgomery Elevator for negligence in a case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The type of drive component in place at the time of the accident has been used in only three escalators in the United States, Mr. Duin said.

Escalator drive systems include at least one motor and one brake. Some have dual motors and brakes. The components pull chains that move escalator steps along.

Edward E. Cline, deputy director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the new mechanical system will be ready by the start of the 1995 baseball season -- if the season begins in April.

In a Sept. 23 letter mailed to customers, Mr. Duin said the other two escalators with that system operate somewhere in Los Angeles. He said both passed examination by an independent contractor. He said he did not know where in Los Angeles they were located.

Mr. Duin said it has not yet been determined whether flaws in the drive system's design were responsible for the June 18 accident, which occurred before an Orioles-Twins game.

An investigation by the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio has determined that a drive shaft in the system broke in two places, rendering the escalator's brakes ineffective, but investigators have not pinpointed what caused the shaft to break.

Outside experts have suggested that the drive and brake system was not strong enough to support the large numbers of people who jam onto the ballpark's escalator during games.

Mr. Duin's letter did not identify the other two escalators using the system, but said those devices have operated without failure "for several years," and Southwest Research has been asked to examine them to assure their safety.

He said the accident at Camden Yards "was unique."

"Based upon our internal investigation as well as the thorough review conducted by Southwest Research Institute, it has been concluded that the balance of the escalators manufactured by Montgomery Elevator Company are in no way affected by the event which occurred in Baltimore," said Mr. Duin, whose company is based in Moline, Ill.

"[E]ven though we believe that this event is an aberration, we will no longer utilize the escalator drive system which was involved in the Baltimore accident," Mr. Duin said.

Several victims of the June 18 accident say the escalator was carrying about 150 people from the ground level to the upper deck when the vehicle stopped momentarily and then reversed direction at high speed, causing people to tumble on top of one another at the bottom.

Despite its load, the escalator had state approval to carry a maximum of 80 people at one time.

One of the victims is Bradley Terrill, 17, a student at Centennial High School in Howard County. His parents filed the federal lawsuit against Montgomery, charging that the company negligently failed to properly install, inspect, maintain and repair the escalator. The teen-ager cut his leg, according to the suit. The family's lawyer said he needed 40 stitches.

The lawsuit said the boy sustained permanent injuries to his head, neck, body and limbs and that he suffered mental anguish from the incident.

The lawsuit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, but has been moved to the federal court.

In its short response to the suit, Montgomery denied that it was negligent.

As a defense, it said, "[Bradley's] negligence caused or contributed to the injuries and damages of which he complains" and "[Bradley] assumed the risk of the injuries and damages of which he complains."

Senior U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman has scheduled a pretrial conference for April 11 and trial for May 1.

Montgomery, in the process of being acquired by a Finnish firm, is the fourth-largest maker of elevators and escalators in the United States.

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