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Student, 19, Crushed to Death in Elevator : Apparently 'Panicked' During College Yearbook Photo Session

January 19, 1985|MILES CORWIN | Times Staff Writer

A college student posing in a crowded elevator for a yearbook photograph with about 20 other students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, died when he "panicked" and tried to escape, Santa Barbara County authorities said Friday.

James Michael Howard, 19, of Walnut Creek died Thursday night when his body became wedged in the elevator shaft, said C. D. Smith, an investigator for the Santa Barbara County coroner's office.

The students had crowded into the elevator on the eighth floor of the San Miguel Hall dormitory while a photographer took several pictures for the school yearbook. Then the elevator slowly started descending, Smith said.

Howard, a freshman economics major, tried to scramble out of the moving elevator as it dropped below the eighth floor. But his feet became caught and, as the elevator continued downward, his body was dragged into the shaft. Smith said the cause of death was a crushed chest.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 23, 1985 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
A Times story about the accidental death of a UC Santa Barbara student who was killed posing for a yearbook photograph in a crowded elevator incorrectly identified an elevator company as investigating the incident. The incorrect information was provided to The Times by university officials. The investigation is by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The firm named in the article has no connection to the elevator involved in the death.

Many in Shock The elevator continued its descent to the seventh floor, Smith said, where the other students--many of them in shock--were able to escape. Santa Barbara Fire Department paramedics freed Howard and he was pronounced dead upon arrival at Goleta Valley Community Hospital.

Lt. John MacPherson of the university's police department studied the photographs of the youths in the elevator.

"The pictures were just shots of kids having fun; the elevator must have gone down afterwards," he said. "It seemed like they just wanted to do something unique."

A routine inspection of the elevator, which had a weight limitation of 2,500 pounds posted, was conducted eight months ago and no problems were reported, authorities said. Representatives from Certified Elevator Co. and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration began an investigation into the accident.

After the accident, university and county mental health professionals counseled many of the students who had been in the elevator.

"It's hard enough for a student to deal with the death of a peer, but to have witnessed the incident makes it even more difficult," said Carol Geer, a director of the university's counseling and career services.

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