Arnold man's death prompts regulation of cliffside elevators

Friends and family members say that in life, John T. Menzies was passionate about helping others.

In death, they say, Menzies will continue to help others through new state legislation that would require regular inspections of residential cliffside elevators — such as the one involved in his death last year.

The Anne Arundel County man, known as "Jock" to friends, was riding a small tram that connects his property to the Severn River waterfront several hundred feet below last August when it malfunctioned and disconnected from the cable. Menzies, 69, was thrown and became stuck under the lift. Though he was rescued by firefighters, he later died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

The legislation calls the devices "cliffside elevators," but they're also known as trolleys, trams and lifts. They're a common sight in waterfront communities where there are steep banks, such as along the portion of the Severn River in Arnold where the Menzies family lives.

"There are a lot of them around," said Menzies' widow, Penelope Menzies, who noted her husband enjoyed kayaking and paddleboarding. "It's important to keep them serviced and running well. It's important to have safety features on them as well."

The Jock Menzies Act would regulate those elevators in the same way as commercial lifts, requiring registration with the state's commissioner of labor and industry and inspection every two years by a private inspector. Homeowners could pay up to $1,000 per inspection.

Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation officials couldn't say how many residential cliffside lifts there are in the state, but told legislators it won't be a burden on the agency to handle paperwork associated with the inspections.

There are three cliffside lifts on commercial properties that the state regulates, Maureen O'Connor, a Department of Labor spokeswoman, said. Without knowing how many elevators fall under the bill, O'Connor said her department will spread the word among companies that build, maintain and inspect them. The department will investigate complaints and can levy fines up to $5,000.

The legislation sailed through the General Assembly, passing the Senate unanimously and with just one "no" vote in the House of Delegates. If signed by the governor, it would take effect Oct. 1.

Penelope Menzies testified about the legislation, and said support from lawmakers — including sponsors Del. Steve Schuh and Sen. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County and Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. of Baltimore County — made the difficult process of talking about her husband's death easier to bear.

"The delegates and senators were all extremely helpful, friendly and interested in making this work," she said.

Jock Menzies had retired as chairman of the Terminal Corp. in Baltimore, which he and brother Scott Menzies bought in 1981 from their father and uncle. The company specializes in warehousing and distribution, and Menzies' work often involved the port of Baltimore. He was named Port Leader of the Year for 1989 by the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

He was a volunteer at the American Red Cross, and he used his transportation and logistics experience to found the American Logistics Aid Network, a nonprofit with the goal of better coordinating private and public disaster relief efforts across the country.

"He was constantly taking care of others," Penelope Menzies said.

"I admire the courage of the Menzies family," said Schuh, who said he had volunteered at the Red Cross with John Menzies. "They worked hard to assure passage of the bill so that no other family will suffer the loss of a loved one as a result of the malfunction of a cliffside elevator."

Astle's district includes waterfront areas with cliffside elevators. He noted they often operate on steep grades. "There's always the potential … that something could happen and someone else could be killed," he said.

Though the elevators aren't found in Olszewski's eastern Baltimore County district, he felt the bill was a common-sense approach to safety.

"It's probably something we should have been doing since the outset," he said.

Michael Menzies drove from Easton to Annapolis to testify before the legislature to promote the bill named for his older brother. He said the two were close, and years ago they had taken a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the country in his Cessna 172. He said he remembered "Jock" as someone devoted to his community and helping others.

"It was a devastating loss," Michael Menzies said.

Penelope Menzies said having the Jock Menzies Act headed to Gov. Martin O'Malley gives the family a sense that her husband's legacy will survive.

"It's a little bit of light that we all need very badly," she said. "It's something that he would be very pleased to have happen in his name."

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