Elderly Georgia couple dies in home elevator

Trapped between floors, St. Simons couple die from heat exhaustion

Friday, July 16, 2010 5:26 AM
Last updated 5:30 AM
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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.  - When the elevator in their home got stuck between floors, Sherwood and Caroline Wadsworth found themselves trapped with no way to call for help as temperatures rose into the 90s in the closet-sized lift until they finally died from heat exhaustion.

In this undated photo provided by the Wadsworth family shows Sherwood and Caroline Wadsworth. The couple died while trapped in a home elevator after it became stuck between the second and third floors of their coastal Georgia home on St. Simons Is., Ga. The Glynn Country coroner said the pair seems to have been in the elevator for several days before they were found Wednesday July 14, 2010.   AP
AP
In this undated photo provided by the Wadsworth family shows Sherwood and Caroline Wadsworth. The couple died while trapped in a home elevator after it became stuck between the second and third floors of their coastal Georgia home on St. Simons Is., Ga. The Glynn Country coroner said the pair seems to have been in the elevator for several days before they were found Wednesday July 14, 2010.

Autopsies on the elderly couple - he was 90, she was 89 - on Thursday pointed to a tragic end to lives they shared for more than 60 years. Police estimated they had been dead at least four days before a newspaper carrier called 911 out of concern that papers had piled up by their garage.

Investigators were trying to determine what turned an elevator into a death trap inside the Wadsworths' three-story home overlooking Georgia's coastal marshes. Stunned family members, meanwhile, looked for a shred of solace.

"We always said we hoped they would go together because if one went, the other wouldn't survive long," the couple's son, Wesley Wadsworth of Blue Bell, Penn., said Thursday. "They were so dependent on each other."

The newspaper carrier called police Wednesday after noticing the unopened editions going back to July 9, as well as an untouched watermelon a neighbor had left at the couple's door the day before.

Police had to break into the house because the doors were locked and bolted. Inside they found no one but the Wadsworths' cat. Then they noticed the elevator - accessed by what looked like closet doors with up-and-down arrow buttons in the walls. Once the shaft was open, they found the elevator stuck between the home's second and third floor.

Police discovered the Wadsworths' bodies lying in a fetal position, facing each other, Glynn County coroner Jimmy Durden said Thursday. Autopsies concluded both died from heat exhaustion. Durden estimated temperatures in the elevator reached 95 degrees.

There was no phone in the elevator, leaving the couple unable to call for help, said Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering.

"It's just tragic," Doering said. "We all know one day we're going to die. This is one of those horrible ones where you're stuck somewhere."

Though they were from Pennsylvania, the Wadsworths had been vacationing on the Georgia coast most of their lives. They'd met while attending Ursinus College in the 1940s, not long before Sherwood Wadsworth went overseas to fight in World War II as a bomber pilot.

Caroline Wadsworth was the daughter of prosperous car dealer. When her husband returned from the war, their son said, he started two dealerships of his own in the Philadelphia area before retiring to the Georgia coast in the early 1980s.

They stayed as active as their health would allow. Until he needed a cane, Sherwood would walk three miles on the beach every day. Twice a week, they'd head to a resort on neighboring Sea Island for cocktails and dancing to big band music.

"My father-in-law dressed in a dinner jacket or tux, and my mother-in-law always wore a long dress - dressed to the nines," said Maureen Wadsworth, their son's wife. "They were great people, fun people."

As the years passed and age took hold, the couple went out less often. But they maintained their independence and took care of each other.

Sherwood, known as Waddy to his friends, would get up every morning to fetch the newspaper and make breakfast for his wife. He'd send it up to her in the elevator so she could eat in bed and work on the crossword puzzle, his son said.

Likewise, whenever the couple ventured out, Caroline would wrap an arm around her husband's for extra support as he walked with his cane.

"My mother-in-law's arm was always slipped in his," Maureen Wadsworth said. "They always walked hand-in-hand."

In the past week, neighbor Phoebe Hoaster had a growing sense that something wasn't quite right. She noticed newspapers gathering outside the couple's garage when she left a watermelon at their door Tuesday before the couple was found.

Hoaster, who lives next door to the Wadsworths' house along a narrow private with marsh grasses growing on one side, says she also noticed Sherwood didn't take out the trash on Sunday as he normally did. That didn't seem too unusual, she says, considering the sweltering July weather.

"I thought, 'Well, it's hot and maybe they're just not getting out," she said.

Doering, the police chief, said it's still unclear precisely when the Wadsworths became trapped in the elevator. And the autopsies were unable to determine exactly how long the couple had been dead. But Doering said investigators are confident the couple died at least four days before their bodies were found.

Inspectors at Georgia's Department of Labor are also investigating to determine whether the elevator was licensed when it was installed, department spokesman Sam Hall said. The probe could take several weeks.

Annual inspections aren't required for elevators in private homes, unlike those in public or commercial buildings. Hall didn't have technical details about the couple's elevator, but said all elevators in Georgia are required to have a landline phone so users can call for help.

"It's the responsibility of the owner of the elevator to make sure the maintenance is done properly," Hall said.

Wesley Wadsworth, who last visited his parents to celebrate his father's 90th birthday in February, said they had complained of mechanical problems with the elevator in April and May.

Still, no one suspected the device that had seemed such a boon to his parents in their old age would become a death trap.

"We were prepared for them to die," the couple's son said. "But not that way."

___

AP writer Ray Henry in Atlanta contributed to this story.

Comments (18) Add comment
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wlightnin42
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wlightnin42 07/16/10 - 06:39 am
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Very sad story, I hope to be

Very sad story, I hope to be with my wife for so long. When your that in love there is only one way to go with less pain and suffering and that is together.

nofrills
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nofrills 07/16/10 - 07:19 am
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What a tear jerker

What a tear jerker

cubbie
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cubbie 07/16/10 - 07:48 am
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God Love Them.

God Love Them.

Runner46
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Runner46 07/16/10 - 07:57 am
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Apparently private elevators

Apparently private elevators do not have the same safety considerations as the commercial variety.

Galan Lewis
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Galan Lewis 07/16/10 - 08:49 am
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Such a sad story! Makes me

Such a sad story! Makes me think of my grandparents, God rest their souls, they loved each other just as much.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 07/16/10 - 08:55 am
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My folks have just such an

My folks have just such an elevator, and they are the same general age. They also live at the coast and deal with the salt air attack on machinery and everything else. They never ride in the elevator together, even though it has a phone and they both carry cell phones. And I always thought they were being ridiculous.

God rest their souls and console their loved ones.

peonynut
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peonynut 07/16/10 - 09:13 am
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Sam Hall - CYA

Sam Hall - CYA

Jillian
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Jillian 07/16/10 - 09:36 am
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The real tragedy here is that

The real tragedy here is that the people who installed that elevator and the family, esp. the family that recently visited there and knew complaints were being made about the elevator didn't make sure a phone was installed.

It's such a simple common sense thing...and so sad it was overlooked.

30cal
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30cal 07/16/10 - 09:49 am
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AT least they were together

AT least they were together in the end ,there are worse and slower ways to go.
GOD BLESS THEM, over 60 years together.

edwardc
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edwardc 07/16/10 - 10:49 am
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Much sympathy to the family.

Much sympathy to the family. My background prompts me to look for "lessons learned" in mishaps and tragedies, so that may be why it comes to my mind that it's probably a good idea for all of us to check on our elderly parents by phone at least once a day, if not more often.

dixiebelle30824
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dixiebelle30824 07/16/10 - 11:28 am
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89 and 90!!!! That's why you

89 and 90!!!! That's why you check on your elderly parents everyday!!! They watched over you!!!!! PLEASE do the same for them!!!! So sad.....

1beachbum
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1beachbum 07/16/10 - 11:36 am
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Wow, this bought tears to my

Wow, this bought tears to my eyes. Why no phone? May God bless them and keep them.

cash bail
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cash bail 07/16/10 - 12:54 pm
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This is one time, I wished

This is one time, I wished Nosey Neighbors had step in earlier.

keeanzia
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keeanzia 07/16/10 - 12:59 pm
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This is a sad story. They

This is a sad story. They passed away together. I hoped to live long like them.

jbomb
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jbomb 07/16/10 - 01:08 pm
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Cash Bail you have no clue

Cash Bail you have no clue what kind of mental capacity this couple was in,stop pointing fingers I can see right through your words!

cash bail
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cash bail 07/16/10 - 02:59 pm
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I am talking about mental

I am talking about mental capacity of the kids- jbomb or whateva your name is. And the neighbors- if they notice the papers and trash was left untouched. Are you culprit..

cash bail
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cash bail 07/16/10 - 03:01 pm
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You can't see through

You can't see through nothing. You don't have to see. I said it for you to understand. Caprenda Amigo?? Read what my thoughts really said. Since you can read through words..

deMOJO
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deMOJO 07/18/10 - 03:05 pm
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wow...that's terrible. seems

wow...that's terrible. seems like even if the elevator is in your home you would still be required to have an emergency phone in it.

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