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St. Louis elevator had been shut down before fatality

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Government workers had visited a St. Louis building at least three times in the eight months before a musician stepped into an open elevator shaft and fell to his death.

But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a review of public documents shows that the inspections didn’t stop tenants from remaining in the building and using the same elevator that had been shut down by authorities.

Frank Oswald, the St. Louis building commissioner, said the city’s inspections found nothing at the building dangerous enough to trigger a deeper look by the fire department before 61-year-old Bob Reuter stepped into a dark elevator shaft in August, assuming the 95-year-old freight elevator was there. He fell about 18 feet and died.

A fire inspection conducted afterward found 12 fire code violations, including insufficient lighting, lack of a sprinkler system, obstructions in the upper level stairways and corridors and a lack of occupancy permits. A state fire inspector also found that someone had removed a padlock and replaced fuses that had been removed to prevent the elevator from operating.

Cathy Strobel, the president of City Photo Group, which controlled the corporation that owned the building when Reuter died, said she was shocked when she learned of the death.

“There weren’t supposed to be tenants in the building,” she said, noting that she had repeatedly tried to clear the eight-story structure of tenants. But that effort may have been complicated by a dispute with a business partner. Strobel was in court seeking to have the partner evicted when Reuter died.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said the building’s problems were the responsibility of the property owners. She said it was up to them to remove people from the building when necessary and to keep the property safe.

“Someone died because someone snipped a lock that was put on there by a state inspector,” she said.

Who did that and why is part of an ongoing investigation, Crane said.

The building went into foreclosure after Reuter’s death. It is now owned by BW Taylor Properties in Washington, Mo. With the elevator finally shuttered, the new owner rented a crane and a crew in recent days to move out the belongings of residents who had remained in the building.

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