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Estate sues Tradewinds Island Resorts for elevator shaft death

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Published:   |   Updated: January 8, 2014 at 03:05 PM

ST. PETE BEACH — The estate of a Tampa man who was crushed to death by an elevator at the Tradewinds Island Resorts last year has filed a lawsuit against the resort.

Mark Allen Johnson, 45, was working for Progressive Environmental Services, a Panama City Beach company also known as SWS Environmental Services, when he was killed on April 24.

Johnson was cleaning the bottom of an elevator shaft at Jacaranda Beach Villas, a seven-story condominium at 5500 Gulf Blvd. within the resort, when the elevator came down on him.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Pinellas Circuit Court, lists both the Tradewinds Resort and the Jacaranda Beach Villas condominium association as defendants. It does not list SWS Environmental Services, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has said the company was partly to blame for Johnson’s death.

Before the accident, a state inspector had told Tradewinds and the condominium association to clean the bottom of the elevator shaft of water and hydraulic fluid, the lawsuit says. SWS was contacted, and Johnson and a co-worker, Benjamin Range, were assigned the task.

However, the company that services the elevator, Thyssenkrupp Elevator America, had told an employee at Tradewinds to make sure Thyssenkrupp was contacted before the cleaning so it could secure the elevator. “This was not done,” the lawsuit says.

In addition, a resort employee identified as Rocco Lazazzaro, who was tasked with securing the elevator before the cleaning, failed to do so, the lawsuit says.

Lazazzaro escorted Johnson and Range to the shaft, where two elevators function side-by-side, the lawsuit says. Lazazzaro said he rode the elevator under which the two would be working to the seventh floor, then inserted a key into a panel inside the cab to turn it off. He said he stepped outside and, when the doors closed, put a “Out of Service” sign on them.

Lazazzaro returned to the ground floor in the other elevator, which guests were allowed to use while the cleaning job was underway, the lawsuit says. He opened an outside door so Johnson and his co-worker could gain access to the bottom of the shaft, it says.

But Lazazzaro failed to turn off the elevator power at an electric panel, the lawsuit says, and he also failed to lock the electric panel so no one else could access it while the workers were in the shaft. When someone pushed a button for the elevator, it descended and crushed Johnson.

Johnson’s estate also criticized the resort for failing to have clear, written instructions for locking down an elevator before the shaft is cleaned, just as OSHA had.

The lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages. Johnson is survived by two sons, Caleb, 17, and Ethan, 16.

Keith Overton, the president of Tradewinds, declined comment because neither he nor his attorneys have received a copy of the lawsuit.

sthompson@tampatrib.com. (727) 215-6504.

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