DEWITT COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) – “It’s not right for handicapped people to be trapped inside a building for three days,” Jennifer Gharrett said. “There’s no excuse for it.”
Jennifer Gharrett’s son, Caleb Zook, was one of those people who felt trapped.
“Caleb was stuck in his apartment on the fifth floor Christmas Eve, Christmas day and his 19th birthday,” Gharrett said.
Zook uses a wheelchair and relies on the elevator to reach his fifth floor apartment unit. So, when it was out of order for the weekend, he couldn’t leave – even to see a doctor for frostbite on his finger and a burn on his leg.
“Kind-of needed to go to the hospital for my finger, kind-of needed to go for my leg, and couldn’t get out,” Zook said. “And when I called maintenance about it, they said it wasn’t their problem.”
Luckily, Gharrett used to be an EMT, and she helped Zook treat his injuries from home. But she’s still upset – she said it isn’t the first round of elevator maintenance issues at Sheldon Nixon Manor.
“One of them has been out of order since the middle of summer when my 9-year-old and 16-year-old were stuck inside the elevator for over an hour,” Gharrett said.
“I had to sit up there all weekend in excruciating, agonizing pain in my leg and they just didn’t care,” Zook said.
He wasn’t alone.
“I know there is one other guy on my floor that needs a cane to walk. I know he didn’t take the stairs down because his knee is shot,” he said. “He was stuck but at least he had family that was able to get up the stairs. I got 80-year-old grandparents, I didn’t want them coming up.”
When the elevator broke down, the Dewitt County Housing Authority posted a sign on the door that reads: “As you know, the Nixon Manor elevators have been malfunctioning for months. Unfortunately, the Housing Authority doesn’t employ any licensed elevator repairmen… The D.C.H.A. staff understands 100% the frustration and anxiety caused by the situation we are working in with no elevators. Please know that we have exhausted every avenue to get the elevators fixed quickly but we are at their [Schindler Elevator Corporation] mercy.”
The Housing Authority directed complaints to their contracted company, who wasn’t able to solve the issue until Monday. Housing Authority Board Chairman Chris Ware provided a written statement that says he got a call from a Clinton City Commissioner Saturday afternoon about the malfunctioning elevator. He said he followed up with maintenance staff, who submitted an emergency work order.
“Once the work order has been placed, it really is out of our control,” Ware said in the statement.
Ware also said the past three years have been challenging. They’ve lost key staff members to retirement, and it’s difficult to find parts for the 40-year-old elevator. Plus, he said they’ve spent nearly half a million dollars in maintenance and modernization alone.
You can read the full statement below.