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Father's goal: safer elevators

Before passing a bill requiring inspections of all elevators, a committee hears from a doctor whose son was killed in one.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001

Before passing a bill requiring inspections of all elevators, a committee hears from a doctor whose son was killed in one.

TALLAHASSEE -- Three children played in an elevator at a brand new vacation house on Pensacola Beach while their parents relaxed nearby during spring break 1998.

A curious 6-year-old, Colby Parker Dillin lay on the floor of the elevator as it began moving up.

In seconds, Colby, the son of a Fort Worth, Texas, orthopedic surgeon, was dead, his head trapped between floors as his 8-year-old sister, Ashley, and a 6-year-old friend watched.

On Tuesday, Ashley, now 11 and clasping a stuffed cat named Grey Kitty, and her father, Dr. Linden Dillin, stood before a Florida Senate committee in support of a bill that would require safety inspections of all elevators in Florida.

Under current law, elevators installed in private residences don't require inspection by elevator experts.

Dillin and his daughter also testified last week in Texas, where similar legislation is pending, and they are planning to go to California to testify later this month.

Dillin has been working to call attention to the lack of safety standards for private elevators since his son was killed.

Under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, all elevators and escalators in Florida, even those in private homes, would have to meet federal safety standards and pass a state inspection.

"Clearly, there are risks to adults and children that are more common and frequent," Dillin said after the Senate Commerce and Economic Opportunity Committee unanimously passed Latvala's bill. "But the injuries in these situations are real, and the risk affects the most incapable, the people who are physically most vulnerable."

Dillin said he will pursue safety laws whenever and wherever he can take time from his medical practice.

In 1998, the Dillin family joined the family of Fort Worth attorney Mike McGartland at its new vacation home on the beach during spring break. The luxury house had three floors and a new elevator that was supposed to protect occupants with an accordion-style gate that closed before the elevator moved.

Dillin said the elevator had been improperly installed and the gate did not close. The accident occurred when Colby lay on the floor of the elevator to watch as the elevator began moving up. His head was caught between floors for almost 10 minutes as the adults in the house frantically worked to rescue the three children inside.

The Dillins have filed a civil suit against the companies that manufactured and installed the elevator. The case is scheduled for trial in September in Escambia Circuit Court.

The state's elevator safety inspectors now work under the Division of Hotels and Restaurants at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but they would be transferred to the Department of Community Affairs under Latvala's bill. A similar bill filed by state Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater, is pending in the house.

"Colby would be alive today if this law had been in place," Dillin told the committee.

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