State fire marshal posts safety notice at complex where elevator collapse killed teen

As state regulators continue to investigate a Midtown apartment complex where an elevator collapse killed an 18-year-old, the state fire marshal visited the building in person Friday to warn residents of additional safety issues he’s concerned about.

Fire Marshal Craig D. Landolt, accompanied by Chief Engineer Ben Crawford, posted written notices inside the apartment complex at 444 Highland Avenue stating some of their concerns with the building’s systems, including its elevators and boilers.

“Commissioner John King is very interested in ensuring public safety,” Landolt told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other reporters outside the midrise building Friday. “We regulate these two systems in the building and we want to share our concerns with the residents and visitors.”

In the notice, Landolt said the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner’s Office has “determined numerous regulatory and safety violations involving the building’s boilers and required emergency services elevator.”

“As a result, emergency services may be hampered. Residents and visitors should exercise due care and caution while on the premises,” the statement said.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The notices come one month after 18-year-old JauMarcus McFarland was crushed by an elevator at the 12-story complex in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, and less than a day after state regulators announced they had found numerous other issues throughout the building.

A spokesman for the Georgia Safety Fire Commissioner previously told the AJC the building owner “continues to flout the law” despite additional safety problems with all five of the building’s hot water boilers.

“We found out the last time that we were there that none of those should be operational,” Weston Burleson said.

Three of the boilers were installed without a permit and a fourth had safety violations and was taken out of service, Burleson 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.”

“As of right now that building shouldn’t be operating either of their elevators or all five of their boilers,” he said previously. “That’s all shut down and we have reason to believe — at least in the case of their boilers — that they (have kept) them operational.”

The building’s owners face a $2,500 citation “with potentially more to follow,” Burleson said. They have already been cited and fined $5,000 following the elevator collapse, which happened Aug. 31.

Members of the media were barred Friday morning from entering the building, which was constructed in 1975 and includes 192 apartment units. A security officer instructed reporters to stay outside of the property’s front gates.

McFarland, a Champion Prep Academy football player originally from Missouri, died of cardiac arrest after he was pinned by the elevator as it slowly descended from the building’s third floor, according to an Atlanta police report.

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

Records from the state fire marshal’s office list the reason for the citation as “failing to notify the Chief Inspector of an accident which involved death,” according to Georgia law. They also show that the elevators at 444 Highland were overdue for an inspection, which must be requested by the property owner or manager.

Authorities confirmed that the building, which is across the street from Atlanta Medical Center, was not being shut down but did not elaborate on how emergency services would be impacted or how residents could exercise caution.

The apartment complex’s management company sent a notice to residents saying it is working with state officials to address the safety concerns, Channel 2 Action News reported. Sohanna Management, which owns the complex, declined to respond to the AJC’s questions.