The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a withering preliminary report about the late-2017 death of forty-year-old Loveland Ski Area employee Adam Lee, who suffered crushing chest injuries while working on the Magic Carpet, a motorized beltway used to teach kids how to ski. The document cites Loveland for thirteen serious safety violations related to Lee's passing and assesses fines that could max out at more than $64,000.
The report, initially obtained by Denver7, is accessible below.
Erika Lee, Adam's widow, is gratified by the findings, which support allegations she made on a website launched after the incident about shortcomings in Loveland's safety practices. "This doesn't do anything to bring Adam back," she says from her home in Michigan, where she moved after he died. "But it's sad the way Loveland handled this."
When contacted about the report, John Sellers, the resort's marketing director, offered the following statement: "Loveland Ski Area is examining and assessing the findings received from OSHA. Upon completion of our assessment of the findings, we will timely and appropriately respond to OSHA."
Sellers adds: "We continue to mourn the death of Adam Lee and extend our thoughts to his widow, children, family and friends."
These words have a hollow ring for Erika, who says Loveland "is still fighting me. It was four months before we got any money at all, and I still have only one-third of the workman's compensation — and they've been trying to take away more of it away for safety rules Adam supposedly violated. But the report shows Loveland was 100 percent involved."
The first major study of what happened was released by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board in mid-January, but it raised as many questions as it answered. Its authors revealed that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the lift, even though Lee spent more than an hour beneath it. The Magic Carpet only stopped after its mechanism was jammed by Lee's body.
According to the CPTSB report, the Magic Carpet was fired up for the first time on December 28, 2017, at around 9 a.m., and its operator "observed no indication of mechanical or electrical problems with the conveyor."
At between 10:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. that morning, the operator saw Adam arrive at what's described as the "top terminal."
Adam is said to have "smiled and waved to the operator as he opened the hatch cover of the conveyor and accessed the crawl space" under it.
The report stressed that "the conveyor was in operation at this time and continued to operate normally to the skiing public" — a statement that was quizzical on two levels.
For one thing, the Magic Carpet's operator hadn't called for lift maintenance. But neither did he shut off the beltway as Lee climbed under it even though "industry standards prohibit the performance of maintenance beneath a conveyor while the conveyor is in operation."
At 11:22 a.m., the Magic Carpet automatically stopped. The initial indication was "an overspeed fault," the document maintains.
The beltway's operator responded by notifying lift maintenance of the problem, and a repair worker arrived within minutes.
The report didn't say whether or not the employee was informed about Lee having climbed beneath the lift around an hour earlier. Instead, it simply pointed out that the staffer attempted to "clear the overspeed fault and restart the conveyor belt," but "each restart immediately indicated a speed reference fault and the belt did not move."
The repair worker suspected "an ice buildup on the drive or return roller that was jamming the roller and prohibiting belt movement," the document continued — so he accessed the top terminal crawl space and began looking under the conveyor.
Doing so wasn't as simple as climbing into the aforementioned tunnel. Four bolts had to be removed from the lower terminal hatch in order to take out the panel above the tension roller.
That's when the employee "discovered the entanglement" caused by Lee's body.
The maintenance worker quickly cut the conveyor belt and pulled the tension roller in order to extract Lee, who was rushed to a nearby medical center, where he was pronounced dead. And as Erika interprets the OSHA report, all those restarts resulted in tragedy.
"They started the Magic Carpet on him seven times," she says. "They told him to go down there, and his backpack was there, his tools were there. They knew he was down there, but they ran it seven more times. And if they hadn't, he'd still be alive today."
Afterward, Erika accused Loveland representatives of trying to blame Adam for his own death, even floating the theory that he was suicidal at one point. But OSHA inspectors make it clear that Loveland, as represented by its owner, Clear Creek Skiing Corporation, erred when it came to enforcing safety measures. The report notes fifteen total items of concern: thirteen marked "serious," two designated as "other-than-serious."
The first citation maintains that Clear Creek didn't properly evaluate the space under the Magic Carpet "to determine if this work space included any recognized serious safety or health hazards that would classify the tunnel as a permit-required confined space. This condition exposed employees to the hazard of getting caught in the rollers and moving parts." Other complaints involve a failure to forbid employees from going into the crawl space beneath the Magic Carpet when it was running and an absence of procedures that would have prevented the device from being switched on when someone was down there.
Preliminary fines for Loveland have been set at $64,673, although that total can be reduced if the resort addresses some or all of the cited violations by month's end.
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In the meantime, Erika says her trauma over Adam's death has been compounded by what happened afterward. "I knew they weren't running things right, and there were so many employees who said there were safety violations," she says. "But they wouldn't let anyone talk to me, and they wouldn't communicate with me, either. After all this time, they still haven't reached out to me."
She notes that "a couple of days ago, I reached out to them. They have an award they give that's named for someone who passed away in the vehicle maintenance department, and I asked if they could start giving one in Adam's name, just to remember him. You know: 'Can we do something to honor your husband's name? Just to show how sorry we are?' I even said I'd pay for the plaque. But they never called me back."
Erika reveals that "I was only in Colorado for six months, and I loved it there. But after everything happened in Loveland, it was completely different. Nobody talked. Nobody told the truth. It was all about, 'Let's protect the ski resort.' At one point, I even felt like they were mocking me — like, 'You're just a crazy widow.' And Loveland went on with their business and acted like nothing ever happened."
Her kids "miss the town, they miss their friends, and I miss my friends, too. I don't know if I would have left if it wasn't for the way Loveland was treating us. So I'm glad the report showed what it did — showed what really happened."