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Maintenance men returning to work after a month-long break for Chinese New Year made a horrific discovery last week when they opened the cab of a broken elevator and found the body of a woman who had been trapped inside since late January and starved to death.
The gruesome incident in the western city of Xian, renowned as the home of China's terra-cotta warriors, has sparked outrage over the apparent negligence of the elevator repair company and the building's management office.
The property managers told the Beijing Youth Daily that the elevator cab was returned to the first floor and taken out of service after workers had "confirmed" that no one was inside. But police investigators said workers simply shouted to check whether anyone was inside and did not open the cab to perform a visual inspection, the newsmagazine Caixin reported.
Authorities said the case involved "gross negligence" on the part of the elevator maintenance company and at least one "person responsible" has been detained in connection with the investigation, according to the magazine. The case has been classified as a negligent homicide.
The victim, believed to be in her late 30s or early 40s, was identified only by her surname, Wu. Investigators said that when her corpse was found, her hands were mangled - apparently from her attempts to pry open the cab doors.
Although a month-long wait to repair an elevator seems unusual even by Chinese standards, many businesses and services grind to a halt during the new year holiday. Although the official break lasts only about a week, many workers take time off before and after the holiday, causing serious disruption to many commercial services.
The Xian case revived memories of a tragic escalator death last summer also related to maintenance issues. In that case, a 30-year-old woman in the central Chinese city of Jingzhou, 125 miles west of Wuhan in Hubei province, was "eaten alive" when she stepped onto a loose metal plate at the top of an escalator in a shopping mall. The plate collapsed and the woman was pulled into the gears; she managed to shove her small child to safety at the last minute.
But questions remained over how the woman in the elevator could have remained trapped for so long with neither her neighbors or her family realizing it. Local media reports portrayed the victim as mentally ill and said that her family believed she had just gotten lost somewhere. They had reported her missing but did not take further steps to determine her whereabouts.
A resident of the apartment complex, surnamed Ding, told Sohu News that the building management service was poor and routinely ignored residents' complaints about the frequently broken elevators and other matters.
"There's now a shadow across my heart. It's scary, and it gives me shivers to pass by" that part of the building, the resident said. "To think of this happening in one's own building."
After the woman's body was discovered, residents staged a protest against the building management. Caixin said that local officials were taking steps to replace the building management.