Charges sought against ex-con in Tempe club fall - East Valley Tribune: News

Charges sought against ex-con in Tempe club fall

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Posted: Monday, October 6, 2008 6:08 pm | Updated: 8:48 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Tempe police said they plan to recommend felony charges against an ex-con accused of shoving a bouncer of a popular Mill Avenue nightclub into its elevator, causing its door to collapse and the bouncer and two other men to fall down the elevator shaft.

Eric James, 36, who had been released from an Arizona Department of Corrections facility hours before the incident, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing on Aug.16 at the Cherry Lounge and Pit, 411 S. Mill Ave.

James, who told police he went to the bar to see a friend, had been asked to leave the premises but refused during an altercation that escalated inside the business at about 12:30 a.m., according to a Tempe police report.

As bouncer Zachary Bale, 23, was assisting another bouncer in the bar who was attempting to make James leave, James pushed Bale backward into the elevator door, causing it to open and Bale to fall 8 feet down the shaft and land on top of the elevator car, according to the police report.

James had been released from an Arizona Department of Corrections facility on community-supervised release on Aug. 15 after serving a four-year sentence for misconduct with weapons and marijuana charges, according to Arizona Department of Corrections records.

At the same time that Bale fell down the shaft, James fell into the shaft and on top of Bale, breaking Bale's left arm, according to the report. Bale was taken to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital, where he was hospitalized for four days, according to the report.

Another bouncer in the bar also fell into the shaft on top of James, according to the report.

The door also fell down into the shaft, but did not hit the three men, Bale told the Tribune.

"The door was knocked off its hinges, and it came down with us," said Bale, who had worked at the bar since June and periodically before that.

The force of the three men hitting the elevator door knocked it off its rolling tracks, according to Bill Wright, assistant director of the Arizona office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The elevator had been operating without a valid permit for six years and had not received an annual inspection as required by state law since Jan. 14, 2002, according to Wright.

"If the permit is no longer valid, the elevator should not have been in use," Wright said. "We should have been notified, and we would have conducted an inspection."

Wright said Southwest Elevator of Gilbert repaired the door soon after the Aug. 16 incident, and OSHA found the elevator and its door to be in good working order. An annual inspection certificate for the elevator was issued on Aug. 29, Wright said.

However, because of a lack of liability laws involving elevator safety, the Cherry Lounge likely will not face any fines for operating the elevator without a permit, Wright said.

The building's owner is responsible for maintenance on the elevator, but a building owner and a tenant can have a contractual agreement defining who is responsible for its maintenance and inspections, Wright said.

The building has been owned by Lawrence Cutler since 1983, according to records at the Maricopa County Assessor's Office.

But according to provisions in the lease agreement, Cherry Lounge management is responsible for the elevator's maintenance, Cutler recently told the Tribune.

Cutler, a former deputy Maricopa County attorney, said he was not aware of the elevator incident. He did provide provisions in the lease agreement stating that the tenant is responsible for elevator maintenance and inspections.

Brian Roehrich, who owns the Cherry Lounge and Dos Gringos restaurants and formerly owned Sugar Daddy's nightclub in Scottsdale, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. When Roehrich was contacted by phone twice by the Tribune on Sept. 29, he hung up.

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