New York City police are investigating whether Tito Morales, a 20-year-old artist found dead in an elevator shaft Monday morning, was “elevator surfing” in the moments before his death, a stunt that seems to be increasing in popularity despite the obvious risk involved. Witnesses told the New York Daily News that Morales was discovered about 4 a.m. lodged between the wall and an elevator car between the 18th and 19th floors of the Bronx apartment building where he lived. Police are still wondering exactly how Morales had gotten to that place, but a friend told the newspaper that Morales and his friends were unafraid of elevator surfing, which involves riding on top of an elevator car as it travels through the building, sometimes even jumping from one moving car to another.
One person said the elevators in Morales’ building were terrifying to ride normally, reporting that they were “always shaking.”
But that adrenaline rush is what seems to drive the amateur daredevils in the first place, with multiple videos online (see below) making it seem like elevator surfing is an extension of urban exploring, another increasingly popular hobby in New York and other metropolitan areas.
“It’s certainly a bit of a thrill, and it allows entry into places that one would not have access to normally,” Gene Greger, who has elevator surfed his way through New York for over a decade, told Vocativ. “Hatches into roof mechanical spaces, ladders at the bottom of the shaft leading to subbasement doors, or being able to get off on a normally locked floor. And sometimes it is just fun to ride up and down awhile and hear what people inside talk about.”
Yet Peter Urbiaco, an elevator technician and editor of the Elevator Accident Blog, told Vocativ that “a million things could go wrong,” as many building have outdated technology and unreliable elevators.
“When the elevator gets to the top floor, there should be space for a normal-sized person to stand up, but in older elevators that isn’t always the case,” Urbiaco told the news outlet. “And the other thing is that there is unexpected over-travel [when the car doesn’t stop], and obviously you’re going to end up inside that space. Even with my experience, I still get very uncomfortable when I’m on a car top like that.”