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Man Decapitated By Runaway Elevator As He Tries to Help Others

January 7, 1995 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A man was decapitated by a runaway elevator as he tried to help his frightened fellow passengers, including a pregnant woman, to safety.

Police said James Chenault was straddling the doorway and assisting a passenger onto the second floor when the elevator suddenly shot up, its doors still open.

His head _ with stereo headphones still attached _ tumbled into the elevator with the three remaining passengers, police said. His body fell about 20 feet down the elevator shaft.

Chenault, a 54-year-old welfare clerk who had worked for the city since 1974, had boarded the elevator Friday with four other people at the Kingsbridge Welfare Center in the Bronx borough.

The elevator shot up to the second floor ``at an unusually high″ speed, said police Lt. Ray Ferrari.

The doors opened and Chenault began helping others off. One made it out before the elevator shot up again.

A mechanic apparently was working on the bank of six elevators, but it wasn’t immediately known whether the elevator where the accident occurred was under repair, said Karen Calhoun, spokeswoman for the city Human Resources Administration.

That elevator passed an inspection on Nov. 1.

Officials closed the welfare office for the rest of the day.