Elevator Crash at Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, Critically Injuring Sheriff's Officer Who Was Thrown Like ‘Projectile'

The CJC will remain closed Friday as the investigation continues; court hearings in Philadelphia City Hall will continue as normal

An elevator malfunction at Philadelphia's Criminal Justice Center sent one car crashing through the shaft's ceiling Thursday morning, critically injuring a Philadelphia Sheriff's sergeant.

The impact caused concrete and debris to fall onto another car sitting more than 100 feet below, injuring a rider inside that elevator, authorities said.

The incident happened just after 10 a.m. at the building at 13th and Filbert streets in Center City, which serves as Philadelphia's courthouse.

Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Owens, 48, was in a staff elevator on his way to collect a jury when an elevator mechanism broke, Sheriff Jewell Williams said. The car shot upward into the ceiling of the building's penthouse and into elevator machine room, officials said.

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Owens, a 20-year veteran of the office, flew through the car "like a projectile," Williams said, causing him to break several bones in his back. The man was being taken into surgery at Hahnemann University Hospital Thursday afternoon.

"He's in a lot of pain. His family is there with him, his mother and his wife who is a former deputy also," Williams said.

Thursday evening, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said Owens' surgery went well and that he was in a medically-induced coma following the procedure. He's expected to be under heavy sedation for the next three to four days.

Philadelphia Sheriff's Office
Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Owens has been with the office for more than 20 years, officials said.

A woman in an elevator in the CJC's basement at the time also went to a local hospital by ambulance for observation. Fire officials said debris from the elevator that Owens was traveling in crashed onto the roof of her car.

The woman, Beverly Smith, told NBC10 as medics loaded her into an ambulance that it appeared to her that something "fell down on top of the elevator." She described hearing an explosion.

Smith, a clerk in the First District Office of Judicial Records, was alert and did not appear badly injured. Williams said she was sad to hear of Owens' injuries.

The CJC closed Thursday after the accident and will remain closed Friday as the investigation continues. Jurors serving in a trial should report on Monday, unless otherwise notified, court officials said.

Court hearings being held at Philadelphia City Hall will continue as scheduled.

CJC Shuts Down After Elevator Accident Critically Injures Sheriff

A sheriff at the CJC said that officers inside the building "heard a loud boom" and went to see what happened, then found the woman inside the elevator asking for help.

Williams said they may not have known Owens had been trapped if the debris had not damaged the second elevator car. The sergeant was overseeing a hearing for Monsignor William Lynn, the priest accused of shielding pedophile clergymen, when the incident happened.

Alarms sounded when the elevator crashed and officers evacuated people from the building, authorities said.

What caused the elevator to break remains under investigation. Government records show all of the building's elevators passed inspection in June.

A woman who was inside an elevator when it fell at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center Thursday morning described what she says sounded like an explosion as the elevator fell. Officials say the incident is under investigation. People remained evacuated from the building, which serves as Philadelphia’s courthouse, after 11 a.m. NBC10’s Rosemary Connors was at the CJC when the elevator...

A spokeswoman for the city Department of Licenses & Inspections said her office would be involved with the investigation as well because of the damage the falling elevator caused to the building. L&I does not inspect elevators, she said, but will ensure that repairs are made properly.

"The roof of the elevator cab punched through the concrete floor of the elevator control tower at the top of the elevator shaft, breaking concrete and creating a large hole," the spokeswoman wrote in an email to NBC10. "L&I will require that this unsafe condition be repaired and that the elevator be re-certified as safe before this elevator bank can go back into operation."

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