Contractor seeking damages after falling down Hotel Clovis elevator shaft

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A contractor who fell 16 feet down an elevator shaft in Hotel Clovis is seeking unspecified damages from the city and a biohazard abatement company.

In a lawsuit filed in the 9th Judicial District Court, John Smith said he fell down the shaft because the city and GranCor Enterprises Inc. failed to keep the elevator shaft “closed and safe from danger to other workers in the building,” according to court records.

The city’s Director of Building Safety Pete Wilt and Smith, a Portales welding employee, fell more than 16 feet down an empty elevator shaft May 26 while working on a cleanup of the Clovis landmark.

Police previously said Wilt was at the hotel to ensure gas supply lines were inactive before construction crews with GranCor removed boilers from the hotel’s basement.

Wilt, 53, and Smith, 35, were making their way to the basement from the first floor. Next to the stairway to the basement is an elevator shaft — which was open, an employee said, due to scheduled cleaning of the shaft later that day.

According to the civil complaint filed by Smith, he suffered injuries to his wrist, ankle, shoulder ribs and head.

Smith is seeking compensation for his past and future medical costs; pain, suffering and mental anguish; loss of income; and loss of quality of life, in an amount to be determined at trial.

Wilt, who suffered a broken ankle, returned to work with the city in August.

He is not named as a party to the lawsuit.

In separate responses filed with the court, the city and GranCor requested the case be dismissed and denied responsibility for Smith’s injuries, citing his own negligence as the reason for his fall.

“(The) Plaintiff’s injuries and damages, if any, were proximately caused by the negligence… of the plaintiff or other third persons whose conduct this Defendant may not be held responsible,” GranCor’s response said.

Efforts to reach GranCor Thursday were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit was filed in July and GranCor’s latest response was filed Oct. 23.

Police said it was unknown how or why the two made it to the elevator doors, located about 15-20 feet north of the staircase, according to police reports. But based on statements from other workers, it appeared Wilt entered the elevator shaft, and as he began to fall, Smith, an employee of Tidenberg’s Welding and Repair of Clovis, grabbed him in a rescue attempt.

Police said the attempt was unsuccessful and both fell down the shaft, measured at 16 feet, 3 inches.

According to a police report, the interior had “minimal lighting” and there were, “neither markings nor warning signs indicating an elevator shaft.”

The hotel, closed since 1983, was being cleaned mainly for asbestos and pigeon waste, before it is potentially turned over to a private developer.

A trial date has not been set in the case.