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Elevator death of student-athlete in Atlanta sparks new legislation

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 3:38 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - It has been six months since the elevator death of a teen student athlete, and legislation has now been filed in his honor seeking stiffer penalties for properties with overdue elevator inspections.

“That’s the hard part about what we’re doing here, we want to fix this problem but it is too late for JauMarcus McFarland.” Rep. Matt Wilson continued, “To be quite honest, it is too late for all of his friends who had to go through that trauma of watching their friend die in front of their eyes.”

On Aug. 31, 2021, McFarland and his Champion Prep Academy teammates were trying to walk out of an elevator at 444 Highland Housing, when the elevator ultimately collapsed and crushed the 18-year-old.

“There’s been so much uncovered in the investigation and CBS46 has been leading the charge on this,” Wilson explained.

CBS46 found back then that the elevator was more than a year overdue for inspection. It’s last check was 2019 and it’s next one was supposed to be August 2020.

Students said they complained to management about the concerning conditions at the site.

Since then, there has been a state investigation, fines issued, and a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family against the property, elevator company, and the school.

HB 994 seeks to increase elevator overdue inspection penalties from $500 to $2,500. It would not allow owners to operate elevators that are 60 days overdue for an inspection. Further delays could also mean up to $10,000 in extra fines per elevator.

Additionally, Wilson says, at the 60 day mark of a missed inspection, the state must immediately step in.

“The blame game between property owners and the insurance commissioner’s [office] of who is at fault and who is supposed to call whom—those days will end if this bill passes.”

Lawyers for McFarland’s family calls the bill one step in the right direction.

“On behalf of JauMarcus’ family, they have always maintained that the first priority of what they were doing in bringing light of this situation is to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family,” Shean Williams told CBS46.

Williams added they hope future legislation includes criminal penalties for companies.

“The ultimate responsibility for the property is the property owner. Period,” he continued, “It’s a little bit late for JauMarcus but it’s maybe not too late for somebody else.”

A committee hearing for HB 994 happened Wednesday afternoon. Rep. Wilson says he expects it could be called and voted on in the next two weeks.