On Feb. 14, 2005, Santa Lucia Mendieta, 44, a maid at the Hilton Hotel in Springfield, was killed after falling down an elevator shaft. This past week, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry levied a $70,000 fine toward the company that manages the hotel, Coakley Williams Hotel Management of Greenbelt, Md.
The wording of the fines states that the hotel and thus Coakley Williams willfully violated safety procedures and laws while Mendieta was trapped in the elevator. The fine cites a list of actions that are to be taken when an employee becomes stuck in an elevator and which were not properly performed or never carried out when Mendieta was trapped. These actions included failure to call the elevator maintenance company, failure to contact security and failure to inform Mendieta of the situation or communicate with her in any way. The fine also claims that easy access to these procedures existed, as the rules were in a binder at the hotel's front desk.
"It's considered willful, that is why the fine is so high," said Jennifer Wester of the Department of Labor and Industry. "It is the highest fine that can be brought towards a company."
According to the documents that the Department of Labor filed, Mendieta, a 10-year employee at the hotel, became trapped in the elevator between the third and fourth floors while she was working. A maintenance worker was sent to check on the elevator but was not informed that Mendieta was in the elevator at the time, though she had called from the elevator for help. When the doors opened, the worker attempted to help Mendieta out, according to the Department of Labor and Industry documents, but Mendieta leaped out of the elevator to the floor below and lost her balance, falling into the elevator shaft.
"The heavy fine is pursuant to the investigation of the case," said Wester.
Coakley Williams is contesting the fine. Since the case is still open, the company would not make a comment, but Dan Stevens, the chief operation officer at Coakley Williams, said that the amount of the fine was a surprise.
"With an open item, it's really not something we can discuss," he said. The hotel's director also had no comment regarding the accident.
Mendieta is survived by her six children and her husband Reymundo Mendieta. Reymundo, 45, and Santa Lucia Mendieta were married for 27 years and had five boys and a girl.
"The children are suffering terribly," said Reymundo Mendieta, through an interpreter. Their daughter, the youngest of the children, still cries herself to sleep, he said.
Reymundo Mendieta also admitted to having difficulty coping with his wife's death. "You can't imagine having seen her, every bone in her body broken," he said.
Reymundo Mendieta added that he and the hotel have reached an agreement in which the family will be compensated by a check for $261.24 — the amount of Santa Lucia Mendieta's weekly paycheck — for the next 500 weeks, for a total payout of $130,620. Mendieta's lawyers are also taking action against the elevator manufacturer. Santa Lucia Mendieta was buried in Honduras, the country where she grew up and was married.