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Home / Commercial Construction / Man dies after falling 7 stories down elevator shaft (UPDATE)

Man dies after falling 7 stories down elevator shaft (UPDATE)

A man died after falling seven stories down an elevator shaft in this building near the corner of 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue on the west side of Milwaukee. (Staff photo by Dan Shaw)

A man died after falling seven stories down an elevator shaft in this building near the corner of 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue on the west side of Milwaukee. (Staff photo by Dan Shaw)

A worker’s first day on a job site to remodel a building on Milwaukee’s west side ended in death on Monday after a forklift he was driving for the contractor Azarian Wrecking fell seven stories down an elevator shaft.

Anthony D. Azarian, 32, is the third employee of the Racine company  — and second member of the Azarian family — to die in a workplace incident in the past two decades. Anthony A. Azarian, 40, who owned the demolition company with his five brothers, was killed in the collapse of a trench in Caledonia where he was working in April 2000. About a year later, Timothy A. Heath, 38, a veteran employee of the company, was killed when he was pulled into an asphalt crusher in Sturtevant.

According to a report from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office, Anthony D. Azarian was operating a forklift equipped with a bucket to remove bricks from a walled-off elevator shaft in an eight-story building at 3742 W. Wisconsin Ave. According to the medical examiner’s report, Azarian had worked for his father’s company for many years and was a skilled forklift operator. Monday was his first day at the job site on Milwaukee’s west side. His family also reported this week that his death came just two days after the birth of a son.

The historic building had been owned by C.H. Coakley & Co. until late 2017. Platform II-Wisconsin, led by Scott Krone, who runs the Northbrook, Illinois-based contractor Coda Design Build, bought the building that year for $1.8 million.

Krone said on Tuesday that he had hired Azarian Wrecking for a project to convert the former Coakley building into self-storage units. As part of that work, the company was modifying the building’s elevator, which had previously been used to haul vehicles, to make it suitable for people.

Krone said his company wasn’t on the scene when Azarian’s forklift fell into the elevator shaft. According to the medical examiner’s report, the forklift’s bucket was extended to knock away loose bricks when the vehicle became unstable. Azarian was unable to compensate, and the forklift fell 80 feet to the bottom of the shaft. Azarian was stuck inside the vehicle’s cage.

“We are definitely at a loss for the family,” Krone said. “We are terribly sorry for them.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident. The agency fined Azarian in 2016 for failing to follow procedures for an engineering survey that would have helped determine the risk of a structure’s collapse.

The incident on Monday came nearly two decades after another in which Azarian’s uncle was killed at a work site. The elder Azarian was working alone in a 10-foot trench when it collapsed, burying him under five feet of soil. OSHA fined the company $3,000 for failing to have adequate trench protections.

About a year later, another Azarian employee was killed when he was pulled into an asphalt crusher in Sturtevant after other employees who were helping to clear out the machine walked away to get raincoats.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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