Doctor decapitated by faulty elevator at St. Joseph Hospital
Aug. 17, 2003, 11:15AM
An aspiring missionary doctor, who was voted by medical school classmates as the epitome of a good physician, was killed Saturday at Christus St. Joseph Hospital when an elevator malfunctioned, decapitating him, authorities said.
Hitoshi Nikaidoh, 35, of Dallas, a surgical resident at the hospital at 1919 La Branch, was stepping onto a second-floor elevator in the main building around 9:30 a.m. when the doors closed, pinning his shoulders, said Harold Jordan, an investigator with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office. The elevator car then moved upward, severing the doctor's head, Jordan said.
"It is an unexpected and tragic loss," said Dr. Hisashi Nikaidoh, Hitoshi's father, from his Dallas area home. "He is an outgoing and very caring person."
A woman who also works at the hospital was on the elevator at the time and witnessed the accident, police said. Because of the malfunction, she was trapped on the elevator for 15 or 20 minutes before firefighters were able to reach her, police said.
The woman was not injured, but was later taken to the emergency room because she was in shock, said Sgt. Kenneth Perkins of the Houston Police Department's Special Operations Division.
Nikaidoh was on duty at the time and wearing his doctor coat and surgical scrubs when the accident happened, Jordan said.
The scene was one of chaos when police and firefighters first arrived at the hospital, Perkins said. Medical personnel were in disbelief, some crying.
"They were trying to console one another. Just to see other people in disarray -- the looks on their faces pretty much told the whole story," he said.
Police have launched an investigation into the accident. St. Joseph Hospital officials have taken the entire elevator bank out of service, but normal patient services have not been interrupted.
Hospital officials would not answer any questions Saturday about the accident since the investigation has just begun. They also would not reveal the name of the elevator manufacturer.
One worker at the hospital said there had been problems in the past with these particular elevators and that maintenance crews had been trying to service them in the past week, Perkins said.
Nikaidoh was a member of the 2003 class of the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, where he previously served as Student InterCouncil President, the student-leader over six schools within the medical center.
He became a devout Christian while in medical school, his father said. He became a youth group leader and decided to become a missionary doctor.
Hospital spokeswoman India Chumney Hancock would not discuss Nikaidoh's background or how long he had been with the hospital. "In respect for the family, we're not giving out any information," she said Saturday.
"Since the investigation has just begun, we're not answering any questions at this time," she said.
Both city and state inspectors will review the fatal accident, said a licensed elevator inspector who served on the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation Department advisory board.
"Annual inspections are required, and I'm familiar with that hospital building and know they have a contracted (maintenance) company," said Alan Van Nort, a member of the state's Elevators, Escalators and Related Equipment Advisory Board.
Van Nort said he also is familiar with another hospital elevator accident earlier this year that injured 14 passengers, including 12 patients, at the Intracare Hospital in the Texas Medical Center area. The elevator dropped several floors before jerking to a stop and broke several passengers' bones and hurt backs and necks.
But hospital elevators are not inspected any more intensely than office building elevators, Van Nort said.
"The city has primary responsibility for inspections, and then reports of any incident go to the state for review," he said.
Mignette Yvonne Dorsey, spokeswoman for the City of Houston Building Services, said the city would be tracking the inspections done by the City Planning Department's inspectors. But there was no specific inspection information available from the city Saturday night.
By PEGGY O'HARE
Reporters Jo Ann Zuniga and Stephanie Weintraub contributed to this story.
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