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Authorities investigating death of construction worker at planned McCormick & Co. headquarters in Hunt Valley

Authorities investigating death of construction worker at planned McCormick & Co. headquarters in Hunt Valley
A man died after being trapped behind weights in an elevator shaft in Hunt Valley on Friday morning, the Baltimore County Fire Department said.

Authorities are investigating the death Friday of a 31-year-old construction worker who was pinned against a wall after falling down an elevator shaft at McCormick & Co.’s planned headquarters in Hunt Valley — the second construction fatality in the Baltimore area this week.

Michael David Zeller of Essex was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics after he fell 20 feet Friday morning and became trapped between the wall of an elevator shaft and the elevator’s counterweight, Baltimore County fire officials said.

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A Cockeysville medical unit arrived at the scene above the corner of Shawan and York roads shortly after 8:30 a.m. and the man was extricated 15 minutes later, officials said.

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health investigators and Baltimore County Police were at the scene and both agencies are probing the circumstances that led to Zeller falling and being pinned against the elevator shaft.

Zeller worked for Kone, an international elevator and escalator company. The company is cooperating with local investigators “to determine the cause of this tragic incident,” spokesman Patrick O’Connell said in an email.

Michael Zeller, left, with Frankie Valentin, one of his best friends. Zeller was killed Friday after falling down an elevator shaft at the planned McCormick and Co. headquarters.
Michael Zeller, left, with Frankie Valentin, one of his best friends. Zeller was killed Friday after falling down an elevator shaft at the planned McCormick and Co. headquarters. (Courtesy of Frankie Valentin)

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a KONE team member, Mike Zeller, from our Baltimore operation,” O’Connell said. “Our heartfelt thoughts go out to Mike’s family and friends during this time. The safety and well being of our employees remains at the forefront of all we do.”

Zeller’s death is the second incident this week in which a construction worker has died on the job in the Baltimore area. Kyle Hancock, 20, of Glen Burnie, died Tuesday after a 15-foot-deep trench caved in on him while he was working on a city sewer line in the Clifton Park neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. Maryland state officials are investigating the circumstances of Hancock’s death.

Zeller had been working as an elevator mechanic for several years after two tours in Iraq over eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, according to his mother and one of his friends.

They said Zeller had graduated from Archbishop Curley High School in 2005.

“Not just because he’s my son, but he was one of the kindest people that I ever knew,” said his mother, Debbie Zeller, in a phone interview. “He would always do something for somebody. If somebody needed something, he was there.”

Zeller was working in the elevator shaft of 99 Shawan Road on Friday when he was killed. The 339,000-square-foot former phone company building is being redeveloped to be the next global headquarters of spice maker McCormick & Co.

“All of us at McCormick offer our sincerest condolences to the family of the worker involved in an accident at the construction site of our future headquarters today," said Lori Robinson, a vice president and spokeswoman at McCormick. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic news.”

A spokeswoman for Connecticut-based Greenfield Partners LLC, which owns the property and is leading the redevelopment, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Zeller was a tinkerer, his mother said. Debbie Zeller said she and his friends used to joke that his property looked like a used car lot because of how many old cars he kept there.

Frankie Valentin said he and Zeller would spend days outside with their friends in Middle River, usually boating, fishing or working on and riding motorcycles and old cars.

“He was one of the most giving, loving, honest people you could ever meet,” Valentin said. “If you needed something, he would be there for you. He would give you the shirt off his back — literally.”

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Valentin said Zeller was the kind of guy who wanted to see his friends succeed and got joy from their happiness.

“One of the saddest things about this situation is he’s not going to meet my daughter,” said Valentin, whose partner is nearing her due date.

The first of 900 McCormick employees are scheduled to move into the building at the end of July, and a grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 2. McCormick announced its move in 2015 after studying 60 possible sites in three states.

Much of the parking lot was gated off Friday morning and dozens of construction workers were working outside the building.

No one else was injured in the incident, fire officials said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, one in five worker deaths occur in the construction field. Of those, the leading cause of death was falls, which accounted for 384 out of 991 total deaths in the industry in 2016.

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