OCEAN CITY — A Salisbury woman this week related a harrowing story of her special needs son stuck in a resort hotel elevator for several hours in August as she made an impassioned plea for an ordinance to require cameras in elevators.
Salisbury resident Michelle Ben appeared before the Mayor and Council during the public comment period of Monday’s meeting and related the story of her autistic son, David, being stuck in an elevator in August and how her non-verbal son continued to hit the call button to no avail. After several hours, Ben was able to reach out to the child from the front desk via the elevator phone and first-responders were able to find him.
Ben said she checked into the north-end hotel on Aug. 19 with her twin sons, David and Adam, the first of which was autistic. Around 10:30 p.m. that night, a frantic search ensued for her special needs child.
“My son and I searched for David for about 40 minutes and we could not find him,” she said. “We went to the front desk to ask for help. For about 90 minutes, which is a long time when you’re looking for a child and your stomach is in your throat, me and my other son, the hotel manager, the hotel security guard and two police officers searched for David but we could not find him.”
Over two hours later, Ben got a first hint about where David might be.
“At about 1 a.m., I overheard the front desk clerk tell the hotel security guard that he thought David was in the elevator,” she said. “He gave me the phone and I said ‘David, are you in the elevator?’ But I heard nothing. I kept saying ‘this is Mommy, tell us where you are,’ but we still heard nothing. Then I heard him say ‘I’m stuck, stuck in elevator.’”
Ben said the front desk employee had attempted to make contact with whoever was stuck in the broken elevator after the call button had been pushed several times, but because the child was largely non-verbal, he got no response.
“I was so relieved to hear where he was,” she said. “It was a long time to lose a child, especially one that doesn’t talk. He was stuck in a broken elevator between the second and third floor. The young man at the front desk told me the call button had been going off in that elevator. He said he picked up the phone several times to talk to whoever was in that elevator but he heard nothing. Of course, he wouldn’t because David is mostly non-verbal.”
Ben said the employee had tried to respond to the elevator’s call button, but because David did not communicate, he assumed there was likely no one on the elevator.
“After the first few times, he tried to speak to someone on that elevator. He just decided it must be a short or something and ignored it after that point because he heard nothing,” she said. “After about two hours, the call button started getting pushed more and more and at that point he realized there really must be someone in that elevator.”
After Ben got on the phone and got a muffled response from David via the elevator phone, the Ocean City Fire Department was called.
“Around 2 a.m., firemen arrived, which seemed like a long time, but I’m sure it was just a few minutes,” she said. “They were able to open the elevator stuck between the second and third floors and David was down about three feet,” she said. “They pulled him up and out of the elevator and I grabbed him because I was so glad to be finally able to get my hands on my boy. He was as hot as an oven. I was afraid in another couple of hours we could have lost him to heat exhaustion or something like that.”
Ben implored the council to consider an ordinance requiring cameras be installed in hotel elevators in the resort to avoid similar situations.
“The entire time all of us were looking for David, we were using elevators two and three and nobody realized elevator one had not moved in over three hours,” she said. “I ask this city council to consider an ordinance to require cameras in any hotel that has more than one elevator. Not everybody can see, not everybody can hear and not everybody can speak.”
The council listened attentively to Ben’s story and thanked her for bringing it to their attention. Elevator codes and licensing in Maryland fall under the purview of state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR), which conducts annual inspections. City Solicitor Guy Ayres said on Tuesday the city’s building codes cover things like the size and location of elevators, but not necessarily their operation, which would fall under the state’s purview.
“It’s certainly a sad story and I’m glad everything worked out and the child was okay,” he said. “I haven’t researched it, but I’m not certain what we could do from a municipal ordinance standpoint because most of the regulations regarding elevators come from the state level.
Nonetheless, Ben asked resort officials to consider at least looking into some code change.
“If there had been a camera in elevator one, that young man could have looked to see if there was anybody in that elevator instead of just guessing because he heard nothing on the other end of the phone line,” she said.