ATLANTA — Students say they had complained repeatedly about a malfunctioning elevator before it killed a young football player.
Jaumarcus McFarland died after he became trapped between the second and third floors of an Atlanta high-rise on Tuesday. It happened around 3 p.m. at 444 Highland Avenue NE.
McFarland, who attended Champion Prep Academy, lived in the building with several other football players.
Champion Prep Academy is a school that prepares students academically and athletically for college. The school said it is postponing Thursday’s football game following McFarland’s death.
“It could have been me,” a neighbor said, asking not to be identified.
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Many people who live in the high-rise told Channel 2′s Tom Jones they had complained repeatedly about the elevator malfunctioning.
“It shouldn’t have to take a young man to lose his life,” one person said.
The department said McFarland, 19, was pinned by the elevator and it took an hour to get him out. He died later at Atlanta Medical Center.
“It’s just heartbreaking because I knew what he wanted. He wanted to go play ball and fix his life,” said student Bryson Grove.
Grove said he and McFarland lived in the high-rise and they were teammates on the Champion Prep Academy football team. Grove said they often complained about the faulty elevators.
”We knew something like this was going to happen one day. We didn’t know it was going to take one of our teammate’s lives,” Grove said.
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Grove says the elevator wasn’t the only problem.
“(Air conditioning), lights being out. Bugs,” Grove said of the other issues in the building.
The owner of the college prep program said McFarland’s death is like losing one of his sons.
“I’m real emotional. Because it doesn’t make any sense man,” Champion Prep Academy Coach Michael Carson said.
Carson was in tears as he talked to Jones about the death of McFarland.
“It just hurts man, to know that the kid had so much promise. And he’s taken away from us,” Carson said.
Carson said McFarland was excelling in his program and had a bright future ahead of him.
“The parents send these kids to us and they trust them in our care, man, and they really become one of our own,” Carson said.
He told Jones that Carson had NFL potential.
Lexus Law said she was in the building when the incident happened.
“It’s a very sad and unfortunate situation,” Law said.
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She said she even called the city about the malfunctioning elevator.
“It’s a serious matter that’s taken for granted and it could have been avoided,” Law said.
The fire department said the elevator is shut down until state inspectors can come in and see what went wrong.
McFarland’s family is now in Atlanta from Missouri. Teammates said they hope to have a candlelight vigil in his honor soon.
The team has set up a GoFundMe to help pay for his funeral expenses and said they plan to dedicate the season in his honor.
The state has confirmed the elevator that crushed McFarland was a year past due for inspection.
A photo was given to Channel 2 Action News that shows the elevator was last inspected in August of 2019.
The Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire, which oversees the state’s elevators, said it’s the building owner’s responsibility to request inspections and the state says it has no record of any recent requests for the building.
An elevator consultant who Channel 2′s Justin Wilfon spoke with said when they’re not inspected, elevators can develop problems quickly.
“Very quickly. They’re all mechanical parts,” elevators consultant Andy Kohl said. “A lot of people don’t do the proper work to make it safe until a major accident occurs.”
The state said building inspectors are looking into what exactly caused the elevator to fall.
Jones received a statement from Nathan Phillips, Property Manager at 444 Highland Avenue NE, that said:
“First, we want to offer our sincere condolences to the family of this young man, his teammates, and his friends. The state inspectors will release their findings in due course, so it would be inappropriate for us to discuss full details until that report is complete.
“What we can say is the weight capacity of the elevator was 3000 lbs. — but the 16 young athletes who were inside the elevator when this occurred pushed that limit to nearly 4000 lbs. Unfortunately, this appears to be what started the domino effect of events leading to the unfortunate death of this young man. This is a horrible tragedy, and it deeply saddens us all that this has happened.”
Phillips also released the following details about the elevator:
- The elevator was not due for its next five-year inspection until 2024 (it passed in 2019).
- Smaller annual inspections do occur and the most recent one for this elevator occurred under the previous owner. The building changed ownership in December 2020.
- The elevator has been on a constant maintenance program with a licensed Georgia elevator company.
- The building’s two elevators were serviced as recently as last week.
- This elevator does not have any history of previous incidents, despite news reports.
- This elevator will remain closed until further notice.
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