The incident occurred on Dec. 6 as a large crowd that had gathered for the holiday Snowflake Lane celebration. State investigators say witnesses told them the scene looked like a train crash; the steps just kept moving and turning on themselves.
One family at the top when it failed said they shoved their baby carriage to safety, and handed their other toddler to a stranger with outstretched arms. Surveillance video from the store trained on the bottom of the escalator shows some adults with children start to take the escalator up, then moments later race back down, kids and strollers in tow, when problems become apparent at the top.
"There were hundreds of people around here, so it was just chaos of people just walking in, going back to their cars," Nicole Johnson said.
The injuries were minor but four of the victims, including two toddlers, were taken to a local hospital to be checked out.
Inspectors with the Department of Labor and Industries said the accident was caused when a loose skirt panel next to the steps snagged on the moving stairway, jamming it and breaking the escalator's chains. Because three of the escalator's safety-stop systems failed, the malfunctioning escalator shut down only when a passer-by pushed a manual stop button, inspectors said.
On the day of the accident, several employees told KOMO News they'd been noticing at least one step that wasn't the same color or shape as the rest -- a fact brought out in the the state's report, which noted there was a step installed that had dimensional and structural characteristics different from all the other steps.
In the four-month investigation that followed, inspectors found 32 code violations, including 15 that were directly related to the accident. The agency found the escalator didn't get its required safety check last April and that its manufacturer, Schindler, did not do the regular maintenance and safety checks that would have prevented the accident.
Subsequent inspections of the store's three other escalators also found a number of safety violations, which were repaired before they were allowed back in service.
L&I says they will now be keeping a close eye on Schindler and will suspend or revoke their license to operate in Washington if the company fails to ensure the safety of their escalators.
"L&I will hold this company accountable for its maintenance responsibilities," Jose Rodriguez, Assistant Director for Field Services and Public Safety, said in a statement released to the press. "We are looking for a commitment from Schindler that it will do what the law requires to keep our citizens safe whenever they step onto an escalator or elevator."
The broken escalator remains out of service until all code violations can be fixed.