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Ohio State University student killed in dorm elevator accident

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Posted: Monday, October 23, 2006 12:00 am

What is known is that as Andrew K. Polakowski tried to climb out of an elevator at his Ohio State University residence hall Friday night, the car dropped, crushing him to death.

But as to why it happened, university and state investigators were not releasing many details yesterday.

Polakowski, 18, a business major from Erie, Pa., was pronounced dead at the scene in Stradley Hall, 138 W. 11th Ave. on the OSU campus. Fellow students described him as affable and athletic.

"He was an incredibly social and friendly person," said Bill Gordon, who lived two rooms down from Polakowski on Stradley Hall's third floor. "It's just so hard to talk about it."

Polakowski was with a group of students who got on the elevator when it stopped on the third floor about 11:30 p.m., said Rick Amweg, Ohio State University assistant chief of police.

For some reason, Polakowski decided to climb out of the car, whose doors remained open, Amweg said. As he did, the car dropped farther.

"He tried to get off, and he became pinned between the elevator and the building," Amweg said.

Although the doors remained open as the elevator moved down, police and state inspectors would not say whether the elevator had malfunctioned until they completed their investigations. Amweg said there was no indication of horseplay on the part of the students.

Columbus firefighters forced the elevator car up far enough to remove Polakowski. He was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

"The death seems to have been more from asphyxiation rather than blunt injuries," said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis.

As OSU police and Columbus fire officials joined state elevator inspectors early yesterday, students were seen carrying flowers into the residence hall.

Grief counselors were on hand on a day when Buckeye football was supposed to be lifting spirits, the university said.

School officials extended their condolences, saying many students had gotten to know the friendly Polakowski in his short time at Ohio State.

Authorities did not release the names of students who were on the elevator and in the hallway when Polakowski was killed.

Third-floor resident Caress Russell came upon Polakowski after he was pinned. She told WBNS-TV (Channel 10) that she saw Polakowski turning blue and ran to have someone call 911.

"I'm not taking the elevator," Russell said. "I may not continue to stay here."

Several students outside the residence hall yesterday said they had experienced minor problems with elevators in Stradley. Sixth-floor resident Jeremy Kopp said it was difficult to hold a door open with a hand or foot.

Alex Morando said he was stuck on an elevator two weeks ago for about 45 minutes.

Stradley has three elevators: two passenger cars and a larger lift. Polakowski was in one of the passenger cars.

Denise Lee, spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, said elevator inspectors will return to continue their investigation today. Until then, the elevator has been sealed.

Elevators are inspected twice a year, Lee said, but the repair history for that elevator was unavailable yesterday.

Columbus firefighters respond to two elevator emergencies a day on average, sometimes at Ohio State, said Battalion Chief Doug Smith.

Smith couldn't remember a similar accident in the city during his 28 years with the Fire Division. Lee said elevator fatalities are "extremely rare."

Polakowski was one of 1,200 Ohio State Welcome Leaders, students who arrived early to help other incoming students.

"It's a good way to meet people quickly. They're kids who want to assist other kids," said Shelly Hoffman, OSU spokeswoman.

Polakowski graduated from Erie's MacDowell High School. He had planned to major in business administration.

"He was motivated, just a good, all-around kid," said Mike Fiorelli, who taught Polakowski and coached him in soccer.

"Of all the kids I coached throughout my career, I will put him on top as far as being a top person."

Gordon will remember his dorm neighbor simply as a great friend.

Polakowski would urge Gordon to teach him to play the song Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol on guitar.

"He would come in every day and play the song over and over and over," Gordon said. "He was relentless."

Information from the Erie (Pa.) Times-News was included in this story.

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