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‘I Just Don’t Comprehend It’: Family of Missouri Student Killed By Elevator In School Housing Demands Answers, Attorney Says Building Owner Should Bear Some Responsibility

The parents of JauMarcus McFarland, the 18-year-old Missouri teenager who died in an Atlanta high-rise apartment building in a tragic elevator accident last month, desperately want answers as to how this could happen.

Jessica Moore and James Boyce of Maryland Heights, Missouri, have been living a nightmare of trauma and confusion after their son died in an elevator accident at 444 Suites Student Housing in Atlanta. McFarland became pinned between a floor of the building and the top of the elevator car. He had lived at the apartment building for just four weeks after coming to Georgia to attend Champion Prep Academy.

“I just don’t comprehend it, I just don’t comprehend it, I just want answers,” said Boyce, McFarland’s stepfather.

As questions continued to mount, McFarland’s parents hired legal counsel to help get answers as to why an elevator malfunctioned and took his life on Aug. 31.

“This apartment complex had a long history of issues and problems including maintenance issues specifically related to the elevator in question,” said Cochran Law attorney Shean Williams.

Williams is one of the lawyers hired by the family seeking answers. He says the elevator was operating illegally because it was not current on all of the state-mandated inspections. Adding that several complaints were brought to the attention of the apartment building owners prior to the tragedy.

“This is so tragic because this was predictable. This was going to happen to somebody, unfortunately for my clients in the JauMarcus McFarland family, it happened to their son,” Williams said.

Atlanta Black Star called the apartment building for comment on the accident. We were referred to a statement put out by the property manager, Nathan Phillips:

“First, we want to offer our sincere condolences to the family of this young man, his teammates, and his friends. The state inspectors will release their findings in due course, so it would be inappropriate for us to discuss full details until that report is complete.

What we can say is the weight capacity of the elevator was 3000 lbs. — but the 16 young athletes who were inside the elevator when this occurred pushed that limit to nearly 4000 lbs. Unfortunately, this appears to be what started the domino effect of events leading to the unfortunate death of this young man. This is a horrible tragedy, and it deeply saddens us all that this has happened.”

“Let me get the record straight, there were not 16 people on the elevator, as their management claims, and that elevator did not have more than 3,000-pound people excessive weight. The law is clear, you can have up to 18 people on the elevator, and it wasn’t even close to that,” said Williams.

“I thought it was ridiculous, it didn’t make any sense to me, I don’t know how you can make a bunch of kids responsible for an elevator falling,” said Boyce.

The Georgia Office of Commissioner of Insurance and Safety Fire, which is also investigating the incident, provided a statement: “We can confirm that the operating permit for the elevators at this location expired in August of 2020. Inspections are required by state law to be done on an annual basis and it is the building owner’s responsibility to request this yearly inspection from our office. We do not have a record of any such request from this building.”

“Preliminarily, what I expect based on conversations with the medical examiner’s office is that the autopsy will show that JauMarcus died as a result of being crushed to death by the elevator and that he died from asphyxiation,” said Sam Starks, another of the family’s attorneys.

In addition to investigating the apartment building, lawyers for the family are also investigating Champion Prep Academy, the school McFarland attended.

“We control our program within that building, and the issues that occurred dealing with the elevator, we have no responsibility whatsoever in terms of maintaining the upkeep of the elevator so I’m not sure how you could imply that we are somehow responsible for what happened,” Michael Carson, owner and founder of Champion Prep Academy, told Atlanta Black Star.

Champion Prep Academy recruits student-athletes from across the country who have graduated from high school and are talented on the football field but need help focusing on their academics in order to get into a college. Carson says all 39 of their students live at the apartment building.

“We occupy office space in the building, as well as classroom space, weight room space, our equipment room and storage space there, but the housing itself, the kids’ parents are responsible for dealing directly with the management company as it relates to the housing,” Carson said.

Many of the school’s facilities are housed within the apartment building, which is why lawyers for the family says the school also bears responsibility.

“These parents entrust all of these kids, including JauMarcus, into the care of the school system, the coaches, the facilitators, they clearly had some type of relationship with this apartment complex before JauMarcus ever stepped foot on there. They had a duty and responsibility to inspect this apartment and make sure it fit the reasonable standard of living for their kids and the students,” said Williams.

Carson says students and staff at the school are devastated by what happened.

“It definitely felt like he had an opportunity to really get into a college program mid-year and hopefully realize his dream in three to four years to have an opportunity to play in the NFL,” said Carson.

Amid all the questions surrounding McFarland’s tragic death, the family hopes the answers to these questions can help bring about a sense of healing and closure, considering they will not get to see their beloved “gentle bear” grow old alongside them.

“My son came here to do what he likes to do, and that’s to play football, and he really enjoyed that, and he wasn’t able to fulfill that, and I just want answers,” Moore said. “I don’t know, I’m just overwhelmed from the whole thing.”

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