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Woman Fell in Gap Between Elevator, Landing

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 26, 2005

A 34-year-old Alexandria woman fell six floors to her death in a District condominium when she apparently slipped down the gap between a stuck elevator and its shaft while trying to jump from the cab onto a sixth-floor landing, police said yesterday.

The gap "was big enough for somebody to fall through," said Capt. C.V. Morris, who is overseeing the investigation of the death Thursday night of Dawn M. Phillips at an 11-story building in the Chinatown area of Northwest Washington.

"It appears she tried to jump onto the landing but failed and slipped and fell between the elevator and shaft itself," Morris added.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which is responsible for inspecting elevators, is also investigating. Neil Stanley, the agency's deputy director of licensing and permitting, was unable to say when the elevator, at the Residences at Gallery Place in the 700 block of Seventh Street, was last inspected.

Elevator passengers often are unaware of the dangers they face if they try to exit stopped cabs without professional assistance, elevator safety experts said.

"If you open the door between floors, there can be a fair gap between the shaft of the elevator and the frame of the elevator car," said Michael McCann, director of safety at the Silver Spring-based Center to Protect Workers' Rights, the research and development institute of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

McCann explained that although elevator cabs appear snug against the shaft at the doors where people enter and exit, this is not always the case between landings. "There can be enough [space] for people to fall through," he said.

In February, a housekeeper at the Hilton Springfield hotel was killed when she jumped from an elevator stuck between the third and fourth floors of the facility. When the doors were pried apart, a panicked Santa Lucia Mendieta, 44, lost her balance as she tried to jump from the cab onto the landing below and fell down the shaft.

Phillips, who grew up in Lorain, Ohio, was an experienced horsewoman and qualified riding instructor with a bachelor's degree in equestrian studies from Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, according to her father, Stanley E. Phillips, a steelworker who lives in Avon Lake, Ohio.

He said that his daughter, who had no siblings, loved to travel. She had been living in the 5400 block of Sheffield Court near Landmark Mall while working at a stable in Maryland.

Phillips was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend living at the Residences at Gallery Place, he said, a building that attracts young professionals.

Police said that the husband of the friend was escorting Phillips to the lobby when the elevator in which they were riding got stuck just above the sixth floor. The man opened the doors and leapt onto the sixth-floor landing. Phillips was attempting to follow suit when she slipped. The incident happened shortly after 8 p.m., police said, adding that alcohol did not appear to be a factor. It was unclear yesterday how long the elevator was stuck or what steps were taken to seek help.

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