Man seriously hurt falling down escalator at Raleigh Convention Center
On Feb. 20, 2016, Jeff McDaniel was excited about seeing The Property Brothers with his family during the Downtown Raleigh Home Show.
The 83-year-old never made it.
McDaniel fell and was seriously injured when he tried to walk down an escalator at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The escalator was not on, but the city of Raleigh had failed to follow state rules and barricade it to keep people from using it.
Despite McDaniel’s injuries and his combined eight days in the hospital, the city didn’t report the fall to state authorities, this time breaking a state law.
And, in an email given to The News & Observer by a city worker who asked that their name not be published for fear of reprisal, then convention center director Doug Grissom told the city’s risk management division there was no security video footage that showed McDaniel falling.
But there was.
In all, McDaniel suffered two broken ribs, a concussion and had to get more than 150 stitches on his arm and head after his thin skin tore off like paper, according to his family.
“I saw it,” said Debbie McDaniel, his daughter-in-law. “I thought he was dead. I really thought he was dead. It scared me so bad.”
The N&O sent a list of questions to the city Tuesday morning asking about McDaniel’s fall but did not receive a response by the time this story posted at newsobserver.com shortly after noon Wednesday.. An email and phone call message to Grissom on Tuesday was not returned.
After the story posted Wednesday, a city spokesperson provided a statement that said, in part, “In 2018, the city implemented operational changes concerning its escalators, which included training from an outside expert for convention center employees and implementing a formal policy concerning escalators and reporting requirements. NCDOL (N.C. Department of Labor) provided technical assistance with the policy and helped to ensure that city procedures squared with NCDOL requirements.”
It did not answer a majority of the submitted questions, including how many people have been injured at the convention center.
Video shows fall
Several people can be seen walking down the Raleigh Convention Center escalator before McDaniel falls, according to video obtained by The N&O from the city worker.
“He did fine (walking down) until he got to the third or fourth step from the bottom,” said his son, Ross. “His foot got caught, the heel part, and he swung around and fell backwards and cut his arm badly.”
Ross McDaniel said a convention center employee told him the escalator was turned off to control traffic at the event and McDaniel said he saw the escalator back on later that day. He said he didn’t know the name of the convention center employee who spoke to him.
“(The city) didn’t really want to talk to us,” he said. “I have not talked to the city. I’ve tried.”
Four days after Jeff McDaniel’s fall, city insurance specialist Beth Christo emailed Grissom and others asking for a copy of any security video of his fall.
Grissom responded that “there might not be video of it.”
Christo sent another email March 9, marked high importance.
“I left you a voicemail regarding this matter,” she wrote. “I was under the impression there was a video of this incident. This is the incident where the elderly gentlemen fell down the escalator, the day of the Raleigh Home Show.”
Thirteen minutes later, Grissom responded.
“I misunderstood,” he said. “We had cameras running but there was nothing aimed at the escalator. So after checking we do not have video of the incident.”
“I apologize that I misunderstood what we have,” Grissom said. “Our camera system is quite extensive but does not cover all spaces at all times — many rotate to cover more territory but I believe the camera that is (in) that area was stationary on the roll up doors that feed into the exhibit hall and the incident was out of cameras range.”
Ross and Debbie McDaniel confirmed to The N&O that the security video obtained by the N&O from the city worker showed their relative falling.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
How we reported this story
We depend on interviews, public records and confidential tips to report the news and hold local governments accountable.
After The News & Observer reported that then Raleigh Convention Center Director Doug Grissom was demoted in 2018, we received emails and phone calls about a man who was seriously injured at the convention center in 2016. We submitted public records requests to the city asking about injuries at the convention center and its policies but the city did not provide them.
A city employee gave us video footage of the man, Jeff McDaniel, falling on an escalator and emails sent by Grissom to other Raleigh employees. The employee who provided the information asked that their name not be published for fear of repercussions including losing their job.
We used documents from the N.C. Department of Labor and N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings to confirm the employee’s account.
City fined $1,200
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers is a professional industry organization that outlines safety standards for escalator operators. Those standards are incorporated into the N.C. Department of Labor’s escalator rules, according to Dolores Quesenberry, director of communications for the department.
The rules require operators to barricade escalators that are not turned on to prevent people from using them as stairs. That didn’t occur when McDaniel fell.
State law requires that the department be notified by the escalator’s owner — in this case, the city of Raleigh — if a person is killed or seriously injured. McDaniel’s fall would have fit that second category.
But the city didn’t report the incident to the state, according to the Department of Labor.
Nearly two years after McDaniel fell, a “concerned citizen” brought the incident to state authorities’ attention, according to the Department of Labor incident investigation.
The head of security of the convention center “refused an interview” and the department obtained video that showed escalators were not on and not barricaded again in 2018, according to the department’s investigation.
Escalator operators can be fined for violating the state rules and laws. In this case, the city was fined $1,200.
Raleigh officials originally contested the violations in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, but later withdrew the rebuttal and agreed to pay the fines.
“The parties acknowledge that the city, with recommendations from the bureau’s inspector, has enacted operational policies and taken other action concerning the issues raised in the notifications,” according to the settlement between the city and the labor department.
The settlement also states that nothing in it will be “an acknowledgment, admission or evidence of liability of the city.”
There have been no other penalties issued by the Labor Department to the city concerning the convention center since 2015.
Less than two weeks after the incident was reported to the state, Assistant City Manager Jim Greene stepped into the convention center director position on an interim basis. Grissom, who had served as director since June 2016, was placed on paid administrative leave before being demoted to concert venues manager June 1, 2018, according to the city.
The newly created position — which came with a $13,000 pay cut — involves managing Red Hat Amphitheater and Walnut Creek Amphitheater.
The city hired a new permanent director late last year.
‘He didn’t bounce back’
Jeff McDaniel lived in Wilson, but made it a point to go to the Downtown Raleigh Home Show every year in the fall and spring.
“My father was very much into going to home improvement shows,” Ross said. “He would go in the spring and fall. And we would take him because I wouldn’t want him going by himself.”
Jeff McDaniel had been retired for nearly 30 years and played golf every day, according to his son.
“He gardened, and he did all his garden work in the yard,” Ross said. “He’d rake up the leaves and help neighbors with their gardening.”
McDaniel died on June 30, 2018, from cancer, which he had for more than 20 years. His health wasn’t able to recover after he fell, Debbie McDaniel said.
“He didn’t bounce back as quickly from this,” she said.