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State reacts to I-Team home elevator investigation

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The state promised action after seeing an I-Team investigation on the hidden dangers of residential elevators, and the Insurance Commissioner has delivered. He sent a strongly worded letter out to thousands of people statewide telling them to be very careful if they have children and a home elevator.

RELATED: I-Team investigates home elevator dangers

It starts off in bold, red print, "URGENT."

It goes on, "It has come to my attention of hazards that exist with residential home elevators....."

Georgia Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, whose office inspects in-home elevators, warns that children can get "trapped" between the car gate and the landing door causing "serious injury or possibly death."

He wrote this after watching the I-Team investigation into the Helvey family's daily struggle to take care of their brain-damaged son.

Jacob, now six-years-old, was crushed Christmas Eve 2010 in the family's home elevator.

It was a normal day. His mom Brandi ran upstairs to check on laundry, but for the first time, Jacob did something different. He opened the elevator door and stepped in, but he didn't open the cab's accordion door. He was trapped between the two doors when the elevator started moving. This hard-to-watch animation created for their lawsuit shows what they think happened.

LINK TO ACCIDENT ANIMATION

Brandi Helvey tearfully remembered, "He was down here watching cartoons, playing with his cars on the fireplace. I had all of the gates up, doors locked."

They never assumed a child could even fit into that space between the doors. And even if one did, they also assumed a safety mechanism would keep the elevator from moving if something was trapped.

Mike White has watched the Helvey's story. He has an elevator, too, in the hallway for a similar reason: He has an elderly uncle, who can't use the stairs, living in his house. And just like the Helveys, he has curious little ones coming and going.

"It just strikes so close to home. I have grandchildren at home that could have been…..," his voice trailed off.

But they weren't because he got a warning shot. His dog got trapped between the two doors.

"The dog was able to get between the inside door and the outside door which was I think 6' 3/4"," Mike Young said.

The dog dropped through the crack but fell to the ground. Fortunately, they were on the first floor.

We looked at the White's residential elevator with Monique Swyer, a co-owner of Blue Moose Elevators.

Measuring his gap she said, "We're about 5' 5/8"."

Too wide says this certified elevator mechanic hired by the Whites to put in a new system.

In the state's warning letter more than 9,000 homeowners are reminded to get their elevator inspected to make sure it meets code -- "five (5) inches or less."

Ms. Swyer says on inspections she rarely finds a residential elevator that does.

In ten years nobody has even wanted to fix it," she said.

What she would like to see if only a four-inch gap between doors just like you'd find on crib or stair rails, so that a child's head can't fit. And she recommends every family add their own safety features, such as sensors like you'd see on a garage door that recognizes when someone's trapped.

At the very least, she recommends a space guard attached to the door and door locks out of reach of little hands.

He considers himself lucky. I am. I am," said Mike White shaking his head.

The state sent out a second letter about problems with locks inside the door. That's the lock that keeps the hallway door from opening when the elevator is on another floor. Seems it often slides out of place when a home settles. Too often homeowners open the door to find a big gaping hole in the floor, not the elevator waiting.

Finally, the state asks that if you have a residential elevator get it inspected, at least, annually. Too many units go years without even a look.

If you have a residential elevator or know someone who does, visit Safer Elevators online for an at-home safety check list.

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