Investigation Story: JOUR 311 Project

Krista Brooks

Jour 311 / Reis

Dec. 8, 2011

Investigation Story

Krista Brooks | Daily 49er

DEC. 7, 2011- Long Beach, CA — Wednesday morning at 9:20 a.m. in the university’s Foundation building, a shrill scream was heard piercing throughout the rooms, and everyone was evacuated.

The scream was from a woman trying to save a coworker, according to Toni Beron, associate vice president of university relations. She was assisting a woman trapped in an elevator stuck between two floors.

Annette Lujan, 48, of Huntington Beach was crushed and killed on Wed., Dec. 7, 2011, by an elevator in the building where she worked. For nine years, she has been working in the Office of University Research.

The building was evacuated and closed for the day at 9:23 a.m., according to Terri Anderson, scholarship coordinator for the California Student Opportunity and Access program.

The elevator car was stuck between the second and third floors in the Foundation building. Lujan saw the elevator doors open and tried to emerge onto the third floor. When she tried to escape, the elevator dropped on her, according to Capt. Rich Brandt of the Long Beach Fire Department.

Officials are still investigating the circumstances of this accident that led to her death.

“I was about to approach the building when I heard a bunch of screaming and they had us evacuate the building,” said Shantasia McBride, a senior CSULB student.

At 9 a.m., University Police received a call reporting that an individual was stuck in an elevator. Beron said Lujan died before the police and Long Beach Fire Department arrived.

Anaheim Road was closed from the stop sign at the bottom of Hardfact Hill to the stop sign at the four-way intersection with Palos Verdes Street on lower campus. The commotion surrounded the students near the SSPA building on the opposite side facing away from the engineering department.

Four fire trucks, several police vehicles, a coroner’s van, investigators, and grievance counselors surrounded the building. It remained closed off as the firemen began to unload the pulleys and bungee cords. The Urban Search and Rescue Team used a rope and pulley system to lift the elevator, estimated to weigh about 2,000 pounds, to free the body — a process that took about an hour and 15 minutes, according to Capt. Brandt.

“We were hoping it was going to be a rescue mission but it turned out to be a recovery mission,” Brandt said.

Brandt said the tragedy is a reminder to people to never try to free themselves from a trapped elevator.

“Never try to get out of an elevator on your own because it’s a mechanical device that’s unforgiving,” he said. “What we ask people to do is remain calm and wait for help to arrive.”

The permits for the elevator are current and renewed yearly, according to Erika Monterroza, spokesperson for California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The cause of the malfunction is still under investigation, according to Beron.

Beron said the Foundation building is approximately 15-20 years old. The building has three floors and two elevators.

Students and staff members present during the catastrophic event were brought to the University Student Union. In a closed room, these CSULB members were given therapy and support from the appointed grievance counselors. Many were affected by the incident, and the calamity of the tragedy.

“It seems like it’s a movie,” Nohemi Vargas Sophomore Communications major said. “Or something you’d only see in a horror film. It’s sad to know that so close to the holidays we lost a staff member who made a difference in student’s lives in Long Beach.”

CSULB administration knew the intensity and sentiment of the event, and notified all students, staff, and faculty via email and phone. The emergency notifications prompted students to take precaution and assured family members and students that no one else was hurt or injured in the event.

“I am very sad to inform you that this morning, due to an unfortunate incident at the Foundation Building, a member of our campus community has died,” Mary Stephens, Vice President, Administration and Finance, wrote. “At this time, we are notifying family members and a complete investigation involving University Police and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has been initiated,”

The university is in shock and has sent its “deepest condolences to the family,” she said.

CSULB President F. King Alexander addressed the students with his own statement.

“This is a very sad tragedy for our campus community,” Alexander said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family members and friends.”

When the news was infiltrated through the campus community, many students grew weary of their own safety. Students in the library began to avoid the elevators and climbed the stairs instead, according to many students in the library.

Janine Orozco, a freshman majoring in nutrition, was in the library lobby as soon as the news reached the library.

“When I got to the library this morning, everyone was taking the stairs and avoiding the elevators,” Orozco said. “It was odd, but no one questioned it.”

“I took the stairs in the library today and so did many others,” Nohemi Vargas, who was also in the library at that time said. “There was no one waiting for the elevators, but everyone crowded the stairs. They were packed and everyone was out of breath, talking about the incident.”

Among the students crowding the stairwell was Sharlene Dominguez, a sophomore business marketing major. Dominquez said she has had a horrific fear of elevators for a long time now. She will not take the elevator unless she is with a group or companion. This incident

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just reiterated her phobia.

“Hearing this story made my fear of elevators stronger and now I will continue to avoid taking the elevator for a while,” Sharlene Dominguez, a sophomore business marketing major said. “It’s sad that something like that can cause a person’s death.”

“I was actually in the library elevator this morning when I found out what had happened in the Foundation building,” Ian Sneed, a senior kinesiology and communications major said. “I didn’t want to scare anyone in the elevator with me, but I was relieved when it reached my floor.”

Some students, however, did not alter their route in the library and continued to take the elevators.

“I feel back about what happened, but it’s not going to affect my usage of elevators,” Jenny Chin, a freshman nursing major said. “I used the elevator this morning to the 5th floor of the library.”

“Yeah, some people are afraid of using the elevators, but I think that using them is not that big of a deal,” agreed Melissa Chow, a freshman nutrition major. “One elevator shouldn’t affect the use of all the elevators on campus.”

The girls continued to reflect on the incident and wish the family and friend their condolences.

Funeral arrangements have not been made yet, according to the Press Telegram.

 

Collaboration with Daily 49er staff writers Valerie Graham, Zien Halwani and Stephanie Schoniger, Erin Spandorf, Kasia Hall, and Caitlin O’Connor.

 

 

 

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