Family of 18-year-old crushed to death by elevator sues apartment complex, prep school

Credit: ASIA SIMONE BURNS / ASIA.BURNS@AJC.COM

Credit: ASIA SIMONE BURNS / ASIA.BURNS@AJC.COM

Football player JauMarcus McFarland died in August

For more than three months, the family of an 18-year-old football player who died in an elevator collapse in an Atlanta apartment complex has sought a remedy to the pain caused by his loss.

Now, they are hoping a state court will be able to provide it.

The attorneys representing JauMarcus McFarland’s family on Thursday said they’ve filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the apartment complex owners, the companies that were tasked with maintaining the complex’s elevators and the prep academy that encouraged the teenager to move into the building in the first place.

Explore‘Man of conviction’: Coach remembers Atlanta athlete killed in elevator collapse

“We obviously know that the death of JauMarcus was tragic and sad,” Cochran Firm attorney Shean Williams said during a news conference. “But what our investigation has also shown is that his death was a direct relation of a multitude of failures by several entities and several people.”

Williams, along with attorneys Sam Starks and DeNorris Heard, filed the lawsuit on behalf of McFarland’s mother, Jessica Moore. The complaint names several parties, including Nazar Holdings and Sohanna Properties, who own the building; Velocity Elevator and Alpha Elevator Services, who were hired to service the machine in question; and Champion Prep Academy, where McFarland was enrolled as a student-athlete at the time of his death.

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

McFarland, a football player originally from Missouri, died after he was pinned by an elevator in the 444 Highland Avenue building on Aug. 31. He was caught between the third and second floors as it slowly descended, according to an Atlanta police report.

Authorities originally said he died of cardiac arrest, but a death certificate provided by his family’s attorneys lists the cause as “crush traumatic asphyxia.”

ExploreState fire marshal posts safety notice at complex where elevator collapse killed teen
ExploreMidtown complex where teen died in elevator collapse cited for more safety issues

According to a report by the Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner’s Office, the elevator was more than a year overdue for its annual inspection, which must be requested by the property owner or manager.

After McFarland’s death, state regulators cited the building’s owner, Sohanna Properties, saying they failed “to notify the Chief Inspector of an accident which involved death.” The building’s management was cited again when state regulators found problems with all five of the property’s boilers.

Three of the boilers were installed without a permit and a fourth had safety violations and was taken out of service, Safety Commission spokesman Weston Burleson previously said. The installation of the final boiler was incomplete and was put into service anyway without an inspection, he said. On a return visit, state officials found one of the boilers was still running “even though we took it out of service.”

The Safety Commissioner’s office said Sohanna Properties “continues to flout the law” despite the additional safety problems. In the lawsuit filed Thursday, the attorneys for McFarland’s family said the building owners were negligent in “failing to take adequate measures” to ensure their elevators were safe.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Another major failure, the complaint said, was that they did not warn the building’s residents, “including JauMarcus, of the dangerous and defective conditions that existed at the property.”

“They have the same duties and responsibilities to make sure that anybody who are using those elevators are safe,” Williams said. “And they did not comply with their standards regarding inspecting, repairing and maintaining those elements.”

The lawsuit also accuses Champion Prep of negligence, claiming it did not do its due diligence to make sure the building was safe before encouraging its students to move in.

“Instead, they failed to adequately inspect the property, to adequately warn JauMarcus and his family about how safe this place was, and failed to make sure they held the owners and managers accountable for obvious dangerous conditions at this apartment complex,” Williams said. “These failures, I will say to you, are the reason JauMarcus is not here.”

Sohanna Management and Champion Prep Academy were not available for comment.