A corrections officer and an inmate smashed through an elevator door during a scuffle at a Pennsylvania jail and plunged down an open shaft to their deaths, officials said Tuesday.
Luzerne County Manager David Pedri called it a "freak accident" and said an engineering firm will determine how the elevator door gave way.
Kristopher Moules, 25, a first-year corrections officer at Luzerne County Correctional Facility in Wilkes-Barre, and 27-year-old inmate Timothy D. Gilliam Jr. exchanged words, then got into a physical altercation on the fifth floor of the Luzerne County Correctional Facility on Monday night, Pedri said at a news conference in Wilkes-Barre.
"The inmate and our corrections officer smashed into the elevator door on the fifth floor. That elevator door gave way, leading to their tragic fall," he said.
Another corrections officer who was helping Moules narrowly avoided plunging down the elevator shaft, too, officials said.
It was unclear how far the men fell, but Pedri said it could have been a distance of up to 70 feet. The elevator car was on its way up from the first floor at the time of their plunge.
Moules, of Larksville, and Giliam, whose last known address was in Wilkes-Barre, both died of multiple traumatic injuries, according to Luzerne County Coroner William Lisman.
The inmate's death was ruled accidental. Lisman has not yet ruled on the officer's death, pending further investigation.
Moules, who played baseball and majored in criminal justice at Youngstown State University in Ohio, started working as a corrections officer in September.
"He was just beginning his career here, a Luzerne County boy born and bred, proud of his new job," Pedri said, adding that "his actions were heroic."
Portions of the scuffle were caught on surveillance video.
The jail will remain on lockdown for the duration of the investigation, with inmates confined to their cells 23 hours a day. The elevator, which had recently passed state inspection, was taken out of service.
Pedri called for construction of a new jail to replace the current facility, which was built in the 1890s, and said it should be named for Moules.