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Coach of student-athlete killed in elevator shares agony after tragic accident

Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Georgia Prep Academy Football Coach Michael Carson is in agony over the loss of one of his student-athletes, JauMarcus McFarland.

“JauMarcus was definitely one of those kids that had the potential,” Carson said through tears.”

McFarland, who went to Champion Prep Academy, died after he was crushed by an elevator at 444 Highland Avenue. Witnesses told CBS46 the elevator went into freefall as he was trying to exit it, trapping, and crushing him.

Carson recounted some of his final moments.

“They had to revive him there,” he explained. “They got a heartbeat. They rushed him around the corner to Atlanta Medical Center. He went out again. They were able to bring him back. Then he went out a third time.”

A photo of the elevator’s inspection certificate shows it was past due for a checkup, with the last inspection expiring in August 2020.

In a statement to CBS46, a spokesperson with the Office of Commissioner of Insurance said, “Elevators are required to be inspected annually – and it is the responsibility of the permit holder (whether that’s the building owner, manager, etc.) to request an inspection from our office.”

While the investigation into McFarland’s death continues, he leaves behind devastated friends, family, and coaches.

“You spend your whole life really trying to help kids, particularly our kids, and to have him go out like this, it’s just really heart-wrenching.”

CBS46 received this statement from 444 student housing:

Statement from Nathan Phillips, Property Manager at 444 Highland Avenue NE

First, we want to offer our sincere condolences to the family of this young man, his teammates, and his friends. The state inspectors will release their findings in due course, so it would be inappropriate for us to discuss full details until that report is complete.

What we can say is the weight capacity of the elevator was 3000 lbs. — but the 16 young athletes who were inside the elevator when this occurred pushed that limit to nearly 4000 lbs. Unfortunately, this appears to be what started the domino effect of events leading to the unfortunate death of this young man. This is a horrible tragedy, and it deeply saddens us all that this has happened.

Additional details:

  • The elevator was not due for its next five-year inspection until 2024 (it passed in 2019).
  • Smaller annual inspections do occur and the most recent one for this elevator occurred under the previous owner. The building changed ownership in December 2020.
  • The elevator has been on a constant maintenance program with a licensed Georgia elevator company.
  • The building’s two elevators were serviced as recently as last week.
  • This elevator does not have any history of previous incidents, despite news reports.
  • This elevator will remain closed until further notice.

CBS46 then sent follow-up questions about why the property missed inspections and previous resident complaints of elevator  issues.

The company responded:

It’s actually the responsibility of the state to do inspections, and it’s our understanding that, in 2020, many inspections were not done because of Covid. That said, this owner didn’t control the building in 2020, but we do understand the elevator company was in the process of calling for the 2021 inspection and had not yet received a date when this incident occurred.It’s also important to note that we should wait for the state inspectors to release their findings of what happened, but sadly, it appears the root of this tragedy lies in the fact the weight of these 16 young athletes far exceeded the weight capacity of that elevator.

We can only speak to the time this owner has been in charge of this building. Since December 2020, this elevator (Elevator 1), in which this tragic incident occurred, did not have a history of issues. There is a second elevator (Elevator 2, which is actually brand new) that has had some minor issues. And yes, we have had to shut that down occasionally to address it. It’s more likely Elevator 2 is what the residents are referring to.