Calaveras Enterprise

Casino CEO disputes elevator riders’ harrowing tale

After reading Tuesday’s Enterprise story about six people being trapped in a hotel elevator at the Jackson Rancheria, the casino’s CEO, Rich Hoffman, called the newspaper to give his side of the story and said he was considering suing the people.

Hoffman was upset that his view on the incident was not printed alongside the first-hand accounts of the incident from those who were trapped in the elevator for more than two hours. An Enterprise reporter called the casino Monday asking specifically for comment on the incident and was transferred through several people before leaving a detailed voice message.

According to Daniel Zmak, who was trapped in the elevator along with his family members, it was a horrible experience.

He related that temperatures reached more than 100 degrees; it seemed like oxygen was in short supply and several trapped persons were extremely frightened and suffered anxiety attacks.

When Hoffman was told that the Enterprise had contacted the Rancheria and asked for comment about the incident, which was never returned, Hoffman said “that’s impossible.”

“I’m telling you, I would have gotten the message.”

Hoffman related his version of the events that transpired Sunday, Sept. 4.

Hoffman said that when an elevator fails, the industry-wide policy is to keep the people inside the elevator and wait for an elevator professional to arrive and work on fixing the problem.

“If an elevator stops, and there’s no medical emergency on board the elevator, we have to call OTIS (the world’s leading manufacturer, installer and maintainer of elevators) to come out and safely reactivate that elevator,” Hoffman said. “To do anything else would be cavalier.”

“We call OTIS, they come out and fix the elevator. What OTIS determined, based on the electronic board, they said someone probably jumped on the elevator and caused it to stop. We’re discussing whether we need to hold these people responsible for bringing OTIS up.”

“There was never a malfunction with the elevator,” Hoffman said. “The safety mechanism caused it to stop. It wasn’t due to a malfunction. Something within the elevator caused the sensors to trip.

Hoffman said that the elevator sensors indicated a sharp acceleration occurred, which could only have been caused by a number of people jumping in the elevator.

That’s just not the case, according to Zmak.

“That’s not true. There was no jumping up and down, no hustling and bustling,” Zmak said. “The only physical action that we did in the elevator was getting in and pressing the button. I would assume that there was a malfunction in the OTIS system.”

When asked if there was a camera in the elevator that would easily clear up exactly what happened that night, Hoffman said there was not.

Addressing complaints by the trapped persons that they were left in the elevator for a long time when the fire department could have easily opened the elevator, Hoffman said that though being trapped in the elevator may be uncomfortable, it’s safer than trying to remove the people.

“The safety protocol is, you don’t endanger people’s lives by extracting them from an elevator that’s stuck between floors, unless there’s an emergency – that is a larger risk. Being trapped in an elevator alone is less of a risk than extracting people from an elevator.”

“It’s terribly inconvenient for the customers to be stuck on an elevator. It’s even more difficult to imagine if they were injured somehow by not following the proper procedure.”

Zmak said that he was told by Shift Manager Glenn Pitts that the doors were not opened because they could be scratched or damaged by the process, which would be expensive to repair.

“I think that issue of our not opening it because we were concerned about damaging the door is false,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know whether someone said that or didn’t say that. I can tell you that’s not the reason. We have a protocol. It’s purely driven by protecting life safety.”

Zmak also took issue with Hoffman’s statement that they were kept inside the elevator for safety reasons.

“I think that’s untrue,” Zmak said. “We were on the second floor, I believe. Then, when they were trying to get us out with the electronics, we were brought down to the first floor. There was no risk of injury if the door opened. We were on the first floor. We weren’t going anywhere.”

“Even if it is industry standard, I would trust the fire department in that situation. Hotel security on site, as well as the fire department, both groups wanted to open it right away, but they weren’t allowed to.”

When asked if it were true that managers refused to call upper management to seek permission to open the elevator, Hoffman said “I don’t know if that did or didn’t happen.”

What Hoffman was sure of was that he believes those who were trapped in the elevator are using the situation to try and rip the casino off.

“They want free stuff from the casino,” he said. “Can’t you see that …?”

“We offered them their rooms for the night for their trouble. There were six of them; 15 of them showed up for breakfast. They are trying to work us over.”

Zmak firmly denied the accusation that he and his party were trying to rip off the casino. He said that Pitts had repeatedly asked him “What do you want?” and Zmak had replied “nothing.”

“I told him, ‘We don’t want money.’ We’re not asking for anything here. I told him I wanted to see a little more effort on the casino’s behalf. We were not sincerely apologized to by anybody. The whole attitude, as soon as we came out, was very defensive.”

Pitts offered to comp all the rooms and provide a complimentary breakfast for Zmak’s party in the morning.

“Of course I said yes.” Zmak said.

When those trapped in the elevator went to the restaurant for breakfast the next morning, they were denied a free breakfast as promised and ended up not eating at the casino and going home, Zmak said.

“We’re not upset that we missed out on a free lunch,” he continued. “It seems like the service was generally not inclined to benefit the patrons. We were told one thing, and in actuality it was another.”

“We made a significant effort to try and provide good guest services to these folks,” Hoffman said. “It seems to us that they are just out to take advantage of a situation that they may have created.”

Hoffman said that based on their behavior, he is investigating whether to file a civil lawsuit against them in order for the casino to get reimbursed for the cost of calling OTIS to fix the elevator.

“We’re still investigating it,” Hoffman said. “We’re just trying to determine what happened, reviewing the incident. We have a clear policy that’s printed within the elevators on a placard. Jumping in the elevator can cause them to stop. We do hold people liable for the expense associated with the extraction.”

“If that’s what he wants to do, he can speak to our attorney,” Zmak said. “I don’t believe that those kind of accusations would hold up anyway. Like I said, it’s the principle, though. There’s nothing more to openly discuss about that.”

“Our whole approach to this was to try and provide good guest service,” Hoffman said. “I can tell you that, in the interest of guest service, we’re not going to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. We followed our protocol. We put safety first. We tried to go over and above to help these guests enjoy the rest of their stay. It seems like all they want to do is take advantage of the situation.”

“I don’t plan on going back,” Zmak said. “That’s all I can say.”

Contact Joel Metzger at

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