Phil Castle, The Business Times
Stanley Stoll oversees a company that’s analyzed some of the most notorious tragedies in history — the car accident that killed Princess Diana, the crash of Air France Flight 447 and the collapse of two walkways in a Kansas City hotel.
But Knott Laboratory also has worked on a variety of other cases — 20,000 and counting over the past 40 years — in providing an array of engineering and animation services to a range of clients nationwide. That recently included an assessment of the gymnasium at Grand Junction High School to decide whether to repair the facility or build one as part of a new high school.
Stoll, chief executive officer and principal engineer at Knott Laboratory, says he’s still astounded at the ways engineering, forensic analysis and animation come together to determine what happens when things go wrong — or prevent them happening in the first place. “It’s amazing.”
And the work couldn’t be more important, he says. “It’s extremely impactful.”
Stoll works from an office in Grand Junction, one of four locations for Knott Laboratory in Colorado that also includes a corporate headquarters in Centennial. In addition, the company operates locations in Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. A Las Vegas location is scheduled to open March 1.
While Knott Laboratory operates 11 divisions, Stoll says those services fall into two broad areas: accident reconstruction and existing infrastructure.
The firm analyzes and reconstructs a variety of accidents — everything from car crashes to workplace injuries to shootings. The company uses a range of techniques, Stoll says, including photo and video analysis. Laser scanning offers the ability to precisely measure accident sites and build digital recreations. Drones offer aerial views.
The information combines to not only establish the facts in a case, but also create animations to present that information — as part of testimony in trials, for example.
Knott Laboratory also offers an array of services in analyzing existing structures, whether that’s investigating failures, fires or explosions or assessing the condition of structures and identifying potential problems.
The investigations often are conducted to determine cause and fault as well as the amount of insurance settlements, Stoll says.
The firm once again relies on technology, he says, including laser scans and aerial imagery.
Knott Laboratory works with Paper Airplane, a Grand Junction company, in using unmanned aerial systems to provide services.
Knott Laboratory began in 1982 after founder Albert Knott was hired to investigate the collapse of two overhead walkways in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, a structural failure that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
Knott’s testing determined the walkways were weakened because of a change to the design of the support system. The design engineer didn’t notice the change when the drawings were submitted for his approval. The disaster subsequently changed the way engineers take responsibility for checking shop drawings.
Knott sold his company in 1992 to Richard Ziernicki.
Knott Laboratory used forensic engineering, photo analysis and computer animation to reconstruct the 1997 car accident in a Paris tunnel that killed Princess Diana. The analysis determined the Mercedes Benz in which Diana was riding struck a pillar in the tunnel at 85 miles per hour.
A French investigation determined the driver of the car, Henri Paul, lost control of the vehicle at high speed while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs.
Knott Laboratory also created an animation illustrating the conditions and reactions that could have led to the crash of Air France Flight 447 in 2009. The Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board.
A French investigation concluded the crew incorrectly reacted after the autopilot disconnected, causing a stall from which the airplane didn’t recover.
Still other high-profile cases involved a 1999 crane collapse that killed three workers during the construction of what was at that time the Miller Park baseball stadium in Milwaukee and a 2014 crash in which race car driver Tony Stewart struck and killed another driver during a dirt track race.
No criminal charges were filed against Stewart. A wrongful death lawsuit was settled out of court.
Stoll joined Knott Laboratory in 2010 as a structural engineer and moved in 2013 to Grand Junction and the first satellite operation for the company.
In early 2020, he joined with Mike Lowe to purchase the company. Lowe serves as president.
Stoll grew up in Montrose and served in the Army. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Louisville.
Since Stoll and Lowe purchased Knott Laboratory, the company has grown despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
In 2021, the company opened a location in Phoenix, partnered with Paper Airplane and launched a sister company in Foundation Pro Engineering.
Knott Laboratory also hired 12 people, increasing its work force by 50 percent.
In addition to Stoll, three others work in Grand Junction. Five members of the team attended Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Stoll attributes the success and growth of the company in large part to a collaborative approach. “It’s about collaboration, creating a fun work environment and taking care of our team and not about me. The team is second to none.”
The company operated before the pandemic with a mostly remote work force, so no big changes were required, Stoll says. He expects to maintain a remote work force on a permanent basis while also promoting a team culture.
Sarah Allen, marketing manager at Knott Laboratory, said she values the employee-centric operation. “It’s the healthiest culture I’ve been a part of by far.”
Given the nature of its services — and the experience and technology the company offers — Stoll expects Knott Laboratory will continue to work on high-profile cases.
But he says he’s encouraged by the overall growth of the operation. “We’re certainly excited.”
For more information about Knott Laboratory, log on to the website at https://knottlab.com.