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Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2006

Car safety becomes focus after 3-year-old throttled by window

December 24, 2006

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— A Detroit girl who died when her neck became trapped in the power window of a moving car would still be alive if the car - a recent-model Pontiac Vibe SUV - had auto-reverse devices for the windows, a child safety advocate said Friday.

The girl, 3-year-old Autumn Stanford, died Thursday night in the backseat of a car being driven by her grandmother, Sandra Ackins, 52, of Detroit, in downtown Detroit, Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tate said Friday.

Tate said there was no child safety seat in the vehicle and the girl apparently was standing up in back.

Under Michigan law, children age 3 and younger, whether in the front or back seat, must be restrained in an approved child safety seat.

Tate said the grandmother "didn't know that the child was in the window. She didn't know how that could have happened without her knowing."

Janette Fennell, founder and president of the nonprofit Kids and Cars organization in Leawood, Kan., said: "They call it the silent killer. Please understand that as soon as that window goes up, they're trapped. They cannot call for help. It goes up so quickly with 40 to 80 pounds of pressure. It probably takes 8 to 10 pounds of pressure to kill a child.

"This little girl would be alive today if auto reverse was in that vehicle."

Detroit police investigators and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office on Friday re-enacted the incident, with Dr. Cheryl Loewe, the deputy medical examiner, holding the child's body in the backseat while trying to determine how the girl could have activated the window.

"We opine that the window was unintentionally closed by the child with her foot," Loewe said later. "If she were standing in the backseat, all she had to do was put her foot on it, and then her head becomes entrapped in the window, thus blocking the blood supply to the brain, which is asphyxia."

Loewe determined the cause of Autumn's death was positional asphyxia and the manner was accidental.

The Pontiac Vibe is made in a joint project with Toyota, Adler said, and is virtually the same as the Toyota Matrix.

"The key thing here, as tragic as this is, is that this child was not in a child seat," Adler said. "The ability to get to any switch is much greater when they're not properly restrained in the back."

Officials from Toyota also were checking Friday on the style of switch in late-model Vibes.

According to Tate, the incident occurred just before 10 p.m. Thursday when Sandra Ackins was driving in the Greektown area.

Another driver waved Atkins down and told her to look behind her, Tate said.

"Sure enough, the 3-year-old's head was stuck in the window of the driver's side rear seat," Tate said.

Cheri Henry, an employee of the Atheneum Hotel, ran out and tried to give the child CPR while yelling for someone to call 911, said Andre Williams, the hotel's bell captain.

Tate said only the grandmother and the child were in the car when the accident occurred.

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