WEEKI WACHEE – Robert Blair prefers to be the only person who operates the homemade wheelchair lift, located on the outdoor side of his three-story Island Drive home.
But on Tuesday morning, Blair was at the hospital for a surgery. While he was away, his wife’s friend, Margaret Harrison, arrived at the home to check on Jean Blair.
Harrison never made it upstairs.
According to the sheriff’s office, Harrison, 66, of Spring Hill was crushed to death by the wheelchair lift. An autopsy ruled the death accidental.
“She was my wife’s best friend,” Blair said on Thursday, explaining the women knew each other from church. “I don’t know what happened, we might never know.”
Blair said he built their home at 6263 Island Drive, which faces a canal, as well as the wheelchair lift.
Blair said the lift only rises when a button is pushed, and the lift can operate even when the power goes out. The majority of the contraption is steel, as well as wood siding, he said.
Blair said his wife sent the lift to the ground floor on Tuesday morning so it would be there when Harrison arrived. Blair said his wife offered to meet Harrison on the ground so they could ride up together, but Harrison told her she knew how to use the lift.
Around 9 a.m., Jean Blair began to worry and wonder where her friend was, Blair said. She called Harrison’s boyfriend, Francis Jorr, who drove over. Jorr used the power switch to raise up the lift, and found Harrison’s body.
Harrison was blue by the time help arrived, Blair said. The sheriff’s office said she was pronounced dead on scene.
Blair said he didn’t know what happened to Harrison to cause her to be under the lift as it lowered to the ground. He didn’t know if Harrison had any health problems, but speculated it could have been a “spell” or a “seizure.”
Blair said the sheriff’s office investigated Harrison’s death, and found the lift to be working normally.
“They couldn’t find anything wrong with it,” Blair said.
Blair said both he and his wife are saddened by the accident, and have received more than 60 sympathy calls in the past two days.
“We’re Christians, and look forward to seeing her again,” Blair said.
On Thursday, the outdoor lift was still wrapped in yellow caution tape. The sheriff’s office said no permits had ever been issued for the lift, and the building department shut down the homemade elevator.