PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant who suffered devastating injuries when an elevator malfunctioned last summer is out of the hospital and headed home.
The injured man was released Tuesday morning from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.READ MORE: 10-Year-Old Boy Recovering After Grazed By Bullet In North Philadelphia: Police
Philadelphia Sheriff Lt. Paul Owens has a few things on his mind, mainly to get a home cooked meal. “Just being with my family. It’s been a long time, almost six months.”
It was a chaotic and scary scene outside of the Criminal Justice Center the morning of August 4. The court staff elevator Lt. Owens was riding in malfunctioned, and officials say the car shot like a sling shot through the elevator shaft roof.
Lt. Owens was critically injured and the building was evacuated. “I feel a lot better than I did when I first got here. I’m just happy to go home and happy for the support I got.”
Sheriff Jewel Williams and members of his department met Lt. Owens Tuesday to escort him home. The sheriff tells Eyewitness News it is his hope that Lt. Owens will return to work.
“It’s one of the best days for me, knowing that I’ve known Paul for many years, and now I get the opportunity to see him on his way home so he can be with his family in a better environment.”
Meanwhile, the investigation into how the CJC elevator failed is unresolved.
The Sheriff’s Department confirms the elevator remains out of service.
For Lt. Owens, today was about getting back to normal. After five months of rehab, Lt. Owens now uses a motorized wheelchair.
“Just trying to get back to regular life. It’s hard but it’s just part of the process. I got a long way to go, but I got this far. I’m just happy to be going home today.”
Two hours after Owens was released from the hospital, his attorney sued the company that manages the Criminal Justice Center, along with two elevator corporations and a city authority.
The Criminal Justice Center elevator incident has sparked a wave of SAFETY questions. Working to uncover what may have went wrong, CBS 3 began its own probe of the status of elevators at the CJC.
In September, this reporter filed open records requests with the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. The agency has jurisdiction over elevator inspections statewide.
That request was denied.READ MORE: Tolls Increasing Sunday On 8 Delaware River Crossings Connecting Pennsylvania, New Jersey
The state cited an exemption showing it did not have to release the elevator inspection records because they were now part of an investigation.
Asked about the safety of those elevators by CBS 3, Sheriff Williams on Tuesday responded: “As far as I’m concerned, those elevators are not safe enough for my deputies who go through that building.”
A dozen other court staff members who regularly use the elevators have echoed concerns.
Lt. Owens is suing CJC building management firm U.S. Facilities, Thyssenkrupp and Schindler Elevator companies and the Phila. Municipal Authority. The suit alleges the elevator conditions were “dangerous and defective.” And among a list of other problems, there was a failure to inspect the elevators.
A spokeswoman for Thyssenkrupp North America released the following statement:
“Our thoughts continue to be with Sgt. (Lt.) Owen(s) during his recovery. To date, Thyssenkrupp Elevator has not been served with a complaint and it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
A Schindler Elevator spokesperson released a statement to Eyewitness News saying:
“I have checked with our legal counsel, and Schindler did not manufacture the incident elevator nor did it maintain it at the time of the incident. Schindler has not been served with the complaint, so it would be inappropriate to comment at this time on any claims against it that may be contained therein.”
“I think they need to be overhauled, I think they need a new process in updating that equipment,” Sheriff Williams said. “Those elevators are not safe and that’s the reason the incident happened.”
The elevators that failed in August have not been returned to service, according to the sheriff.
A spokesman for the City of Philadelphia released the following statement:
“The City has yet to receive the complaint and cannot comment on the filing. The City, along with the state Department of Labor and Industry, are continuing their investigation into the accident, assisted by independent elevator safety experts. The exact cause is still undetermined.
It is important to note that the elevators now in use at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice have been fully cleared for use by state inspectors and independent elevator inspectors retained by the City. Nonetheless we are working on continuing improvements to the elevators in the building, and the safety of those who work in and visit the building is the absolute top priority.”MORE NEWS: Man Dies After Being Shot Four Times In West Oak Lane, Philadelphia Police Say
U.S. Facilities did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the pending litigation.