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Family wonders why woman died in high-rise trash chute after boy died there

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Updated: May 4, 2013 6:48AM

After an 80-year-old woman fell 17 stories to her death in the trash chute of a Gold Coast high-rise, her family was trying to understand how such a thing could happen — twice.

The terrible discovery came after Florence Banta’s daughter came to pick her up Sunday for an Easter brunch. Banta’s door was open, but she was not in her apartment. It was nearly 24 hours before the desperate family found that the worst had happened.

Banta’s body was found at the bottom of a trash chute in her building at 1555 N. Astor St., the same Gold Coast high-rise where Charlie Manley, a 17-year-old autistic boy with Down syndrome, died in a fall down a trash chute last year.

“Within the family there’s certainly quite a bit of disappointment that [earlier] incident happened, and it doesn’t seem like anything was done to address the possibility of it happening again,” said Banta’s grandson, Brad Laken.

Banta was last seen Saturday, and when her family found she was missing on Sunday, “We thought maybe she was wandering around the neighborhood, maybe something had happened to her. We couldn’t figure it out,” Laken said.

After Chicago Police detectives reviewed building video that showed Banta had not left the building, her family recalled that Banta had mentioned how horrified she was when the boy had fallen to his death in the trash chute.

“We encouraged the police to take a look there and make sure it didn’t happen to her,” Laken said. “That’s where she was found.”

Her family thinks that it’s unlikely that Banta would take her own life in such a manner.

“The tragic irony is that she was a very fastidious person,” Laken said. “If you went to her apartment it was always extremely tidy and well-organized, so it’s particularly horrifying that she would end up in the trash.”

Banta was looking forward to the Easter brunch at a restaurant and also was very involved in planning a move to another apartment, her family said.

She had been dealing with the grief of losing her husband of more than 50 years about 18 months ago.

“But from what we can gather, there was no sign that she was suicidal or in such mental stress that she would consider doing this on an impulse,” Laken said.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy Tuesday and said a ruling on whether the death was accidental was pending further investigation. Charlie Manley’s death was ruled an accident last year.

The building issued a statement saying: “The safety and privacy of our residents and our community remains our top priority.”

Banta was an avid collector of antiques, and she enjoyed walking around her neighborhood. She took very good care of herself and was into organic food long before it became popular, her grandson said.

One of her favorite destinations was the Whole Foods supermarket. “I think she knew everybody who worked there,” her grandson said.

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