By Joe Eskenazi
A veteran elevator repairman told SF Weekly several scenarios that have killed a number of his colleagues over the years are also plausible explanations as to why Dr. Dan Kliman was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft earlier this month.
Kliman, 38, was a fiery pro-Israel activist who police suspect died climbing from a stuck elevator at The Sharon Building on 55 New Montgomery in late November; his body wasn't discovered until the first of this month. Because Kliman mixed it up with so many anti-Israel protesters, many of his friends and colleagues refused to believe that this was a mere accident. And because the San Francisco Police Department has bled credibility like a Bernard Madoff-tainted 401K of late, suggestions of murder conspiracies that, by all rights, should have been laughed off as delusional just couldn't be. After the investigator on the case told anyone who would listen - including Michael Savage - that this was "not a homicide," the SFPD claimed that the subsequent formation of a "task force" led by a homicide detective was standard operating procedure.
You can read all of SF Weekly's coverage of this story here.
The elevator repairman - who has worked for a prominent San Francisco company for nearly 25 years - insisted we not use his name. Stories about people falling out of elevators tend to give folks the willies and drive up public paranoia about an occurrence about as likely as being struck by lightning while in a movie theater. Speaking to the media could be a firing offense, so for the purposes of this article, we'll call him Ozzy.
Understanding some of the finer points of Ozzy's postulations requires delving into the arcane of laws and regulations governing elevators. Also, it warrants mentioning that if you are a person with even a mild fear of elevators, the scenarios Ozzy conjures up may well make you wake up in a cold sweat for weeks to come.
Before clamming up to the media at police behest, the building operators at 55 New Montgomery noted that the elevator Kliman allegedly died climbing out of passed its inspection on Nov. 4 - and operators attempted to pry the inner doors open while stopped between floors and couldn't budge them beyond the code-mandated four inches.
If true, this is odd - in order to pass inspection, the Sharon Building's elevators shouldn't have had to undergo the four-inch test. While it's mandated that newer elevators' inner doors not open more than four inches while stopped between floors, the Sharon Building's lifts date from World War I and were modernized in 1976. Ozzy notes that they should be grandfathered in under an older, more permissive code. He says he's pried open many elevator doors from bicentennial-era elevators between floors.
Police spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams last week told SF Weekly that it was the state Occupational Safety and Health Association (Cal-OSHA) investigation of the elevator that the SFPD was waiting on. Today he said there have been no updates to speak of regarding the case. So it'll be interesting to see what OSHA finds. If Kliman could indeed have pried open those doors, then he may have engaged in behavior that has killed many elevator repairmen.
The first scenario Ozzy postulated involved an elevator car stuck more than halfway up the outer doors. In order to get out, one would need to force open both the inner and outer doors. Ozzy notes that many people in this situation choose to exit the elevator car feet-first while on their stomachs. And when one can't quite reach the "sill" of the outer door with his feet, then this becomes an extremely dangerous maneuver. When pushing oneself backward with the arms, momentum causes the legs to move upward toward a sitting position. Because of this, many repairmen have plunged down elevator shafts.
Ozzy's second scenario is perhaps even more disturbing. Many trapped elevator operators manage to pry open both the inner and outer sets of doors. They then sit on the floor of the elevator car and dangle their legs over the edge before leaping out of the car and through both sets of open doors. Instinctually, however, many balance themselves against the outer elevator doors - which, counter-intuitively, offer no resistance and move. This could cause someone to lose his or her balance and fall down the shaft.
"A lot of elevator men have been killed by forcing doors open and leaping out of elevators," said Ozzy. "Elevators are super safe. But when people get stuck, they want to get out as fast as they can, so they try to [escape]. Stay in there. Inside is the safest place to be - unless there's a fire."