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Sewickley man's death in Tampa airport elevator shaft remains a mystery

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Details are still emerging in the death of a Sewickley Township man Friday morning in a Tampa International Airport elevator shaft.

Chad Wolfe, 31, had traveled to Tampa with his girlfriend of more than nine years, Jessica Price, and planned to travel to Daytona for Bike Week and visit a few automobile auctions, his father, Garland Wolfe, said Monday.

“She can't talk,” he said of Price. “She's on her way back ... but as of now we haven't been able to speak to her, she's just totally broken up.”

Funeral arrangements are being made with Beatty-Rich Funeral Home Inc. in Madison.

Airport officials said Chad Wolfe, after arguing with Price, took an elevator from the third floor of the main terminal to the seventh floor of a parking garage, where his luggage and cellphone were found, according to a preliminary report from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Department.

Wolfe was last seen alive about 1 a.m. Friday by Price, that report said.

An airport patron reported a second-floor elevator door adjacent to the elevator Wolfe used wouldn't close about 3 a.m. Friday, according to airport spokeswoman Janet Zink.

Maintenance workers sent to service the elevator about 10:30 a.m. found Wolfe's body on top of an elevator car on the ground level. He was pronounced dead at 11:04 a.m.

Zink said there were no signs of foul play and there is no surveillance video of the elevator doors. She said an investigation by airport officials is not yet complete.

Investigators found an empty Xanax bottle in Wolfe's pocket. He had prescriptions for Xanax and Paxil, according to the report.

“My wife got sick a few years ago or so ... with cancer, and he was on (Paxil because of) that, and then the Xanax was for anxiety. He was petrified of flying,” Garland Wolfe said.

According to the medical examiner's report, Tampa International Airport police said it appeared Chad Wolfe forced open the elevator door. Airport investigators noted an oil-like substance on Wolfe's hands, according to the medical examiner's report.

“He's a small guy. At 145 pounds, (forcing open the elevator doors) is virtually impossible,” Garland Wolfe said. “There's no way to physically open those doors without the Jaws of Life is what a few firemen have told me. Actually, I got a call from a guy from Tampa who flew in Friday morning, and he said he used that same elevator and the doors were sticking and gave him all kinds of problems. My opinion is the elevator doors opened, he (Chad Wolfe) stepped in and there wasn't any floor there.”

Chad Wolfe's friends and family dismissed the idea he could have intentionally sought to harm himself, saying he was well-liked and showed no signs of depression.

The medical examiner's office said Wolfe's autopsy is complete, but the official cause of death will not be determined until results of toxicology and other medical tests are received in eight to 12 weeks.

Wolfe, who worked with his father at the family's small auto body repair shop in Sewickley Township, had recently received his state license to operate a used car lot.

“It's going to be very difficult to go back to work,” Garland Wolfe said. “He's an excellent worker, and it's just going to be difficult.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at (724) 459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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