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Originally published April 11, 2013 at 9:06 PM | Page modified April 11, 2013 at 10:29 PM

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Operator of escalator where man died had safety violations, says L&I

A man was strangled in downtown Seattle last weekend when his clothes became entangled in a King County Metro escalator. Labor & Industries says the escalator had several safety-code violations that were supposed to be fixed last month.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A man was strangled in an accident last weekend on a downtown Seattle escalator with several safety-code violations, and the state Department of Labor & Industries is investigating.

Maurecio Bell, 42, of Renton, was found unconscious and unresponsive about 5:30 a.m. Sunday at the bottom of a King County Metro escalator at University Street Station near Third Avenue and University Street, according to the Seattle Police Department.

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office said that after Bell apparently fell down on the moving escalator, his clothing became entangled in the escalator’s mechanism, choking him to death.

Video of the incident confirms that’s what happened, according to police. They say the King County Metro footage shows Bell, who was later found with a bottle of brandy in his back pocket, staggering and then leaning against the escalator wall at 5:19 a.m.

When he was about three-quarters of the way down the escalator, according to the police report, he lost his balance and fell onto his back. During and after the fall, he did not attempt to get back up by reaching for a railing. When he reached the base of the escalator, the back of his shirt was pulled into it.

He then attempted to sit up but was pulled onto his back, the report says.

The first person to see Bell pressed the escalator’s manual stop button, called 911 and performed CPR on him until the Seattle Fire Department arrived, according to police.

Medics were unable to revive him, said Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore.

“It’s an unfortunate and tragic accident, and we’ve never seen anything like it before,” said King County Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer.

But Labor & Industries says the escalator, which King County Metro contracts with Kone Elevators to maintain, had several safety-code violations. Kone could not be reached for comment.

A Dec. 5 Labor & Industries inspection report shows that seven corrections and maintenance practices needed to be fixed by March 27. None of those fixes were made at the time of Bell’s death, said department spokesman Dave Wasser.

Among the fixes that needed to be made were replacements for all broken combteeth and making a stop-switch cover buzzer operational.

It won’t be known whether the code violations played a part in Bell’s death until the investigation is complete, Wasser said.

The escalator will remain closed until further notice, Switzer said.

Bell’s death came a day before Labor & Industries announced it had completed an investigation of a Bellevue Square escalator that had 32 code violations. Seven people were injured Dec. 6 in an accident involving that escalator when a skirt panel next to the steps snagged on the moving stairway, jamming it and breaking the escalator chains, according to the department’s report.

The department says the escalator’s safety-stop system also failed and only shut down when someone at the scene pressed the manual stop button.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com.

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