CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders at a press conference Wednesday about an accident at Hotel Clovis injuring Building Inspector Pete Wilt and John Smith of Portales. Both men fell 20 feet down an elevator shaft Tuesday morning and remain hospitalized.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
Police revealed few details at a Wednesday evening press conference, more than 30 hours after two men were injured in a fall down an elevator shaft at Hotel Clovis.
Clovis police said they have ruled out criminal activity in the incident.
The city’s Director of Building Safety Pete Wilt and Portales welding employee John Smith fell more than 16 feet down an empty elevator shaft.
“This is strictly an unintentional act,” Chief Steve Sanders said Wednesday evening at City Hall. “Mr. Smith and Mr. Wilt were together in the wrong place at the right time.”
Both are listed in stable condition as of Wednesday night — Wilt is at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, while Smith is at Plains Regional Medical Center.
Sanders did not disclose the extent of their injuries.
Wilt, reached via cell phone Wednesday night, said “I just had a little accident.” He said he figures his injuries don’t extend beyond a broken ankle. Wilt declined to elaborate further, noting that he wanted to clear statements with the city first.
Sanders said Wilt, 53, was at the hotel to ensure gas supply lines were inactive before construction crews with GranCor removed boilers from the hotel’s basement.
The hotel, closed since 1983, is being remediated, mainly for asbestos and pigeon waste, before it is potentially turned over to a private developer.
Wilt 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.
Sanders said it’s 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, Sanders said 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. Sanders said the attempt was unsuccessful and both fell down the shaft, measured at 16 feet, 3 inches.
Police were dispatched to the scene around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, after employees heard screaming from the basement area.
According to a police report, the interior had “minimal lighting” and there were, “neither markings nor warning signs indicating an elevator shaft.”
Sanders said it was “speculation and conjecture” to point to those conditions or others as primary factors in the accident.
Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said Zoning Officer Louis Gordon would take on Wilt’s duties on an interim basis.
The deadline is Sunday for the remediation to be complete. Thomas said the accident will likely impact completion of the work, but said it would be speculation to estimate a date.
A call placed to Smith Wednesday was not immediately returned.