Home Elevator Accident Investigation

On February 1, 2017, a two-year-old boy became trapped between the elevator accordion door and the elevator shaft (hoistway) door of a home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Information collected included geometry data acquired at the scene with a FARO laser scanner, physical characteristics of the child, medical injury data, and photographs of the child and scene.

Testing and Analysis

Testing and analysis were performed using a variety of traditional scientific methods, including physical testing with an anthropomorphic child dummy and surrogates, and computer modeling and simulation. In addition, the FARO scan data was used to create a true-to-life 3D virtual environment, which investigators used to virtually enter the home and surroundings, interact with the elevator, and analyze different scenarios. Because the data was 3D, their perspective within the VR environment could be varied to show the elevator and surrounding areas as they would have appeared to an adult, and alternatively, to a child.

Using the VR technology, investigators were able to see firsthand how the boy entered the space between the elevator accordion door and hoistway door and became entrapped. The elevator car then rose past the torso of the child to the second floor, before lowering down onto him, resulting in compressional asphyxia. They were also able to test various body positions and determine the precise relative locations of the elevator car, doors, and child before, during, and after the tragic accident.

A New Tool for Scientific Investigation

While VR is widely known as a tool for creating compelling, interactive visualizations, this accident investigation highlights how it can be used to help analyze and reconstruct an unwitnessed accident. When employed early in an investigation, it can shed light on important scenarios to explore, and when combined with other scientific methods, can help investigators converge on a precise accident scenario. Just as importantly, it can be used to safely analyze alternative safety measures that could be used to help prevent similar incidents.

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