Power window tragedies: Aurora two year old's fight for life part of national trend
At this writing, an Aurora two year old is in critical condition at a local hospital after being left in the car by her mom and getting her neck stuck between the window and the frame of the door.
At this point, no criminal charges have been filed in the case. But the incident resembles tragedies documented by KidsandCars.org related to children being severely injured or dying after being caught in power windows. Below, read about four such cases in which the kids survived, plus the latest on the Aurora toddler.
All photos and text courtesy of KidsandCars.org.
Samuel Aaron Mathis
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
"On Saturday March 22, 2008 my life changed. I was getting ready for a normal day of work and I heard the front door shut. I didn't think anything about it since my Father goes outside to smoke, and the kids were watching cartoons. Well I heard my dad talking to my oldest son, and that is when I yelled at Jacob asking where Sam was. He answered saying outside. Well I went to the back door thinking he was on the back porch, and I noticed he was actually in my car. I yelled at him thinking he was looking at something on the back of my car, but he didn't answer. When I got closer to the car I realized it was running, that is when I noticed that the driver window was rolled up on his neck and he was blue, and drooling. I opened the door and promptly placed my arm under his rear end since he was kneeling on the arm rest. I then dropped the window and he just dropped into my arms. As soon as I was holding him he took a gasp of air. He was breathing but it was like he was hyperventilating, and not responding. I gave him a few extra breaths, hoping that it would help his breathing, while I was running in the house with him.
"I laid him down on the front room floor crying and talking to him. I frantically called 911 and had my brother on another phone calling my mom and my fiancé. While on the phone with 911 they asked if he was responding. All he was doing was whenever I said his name he would open his eyelids, but his eyes were still rolled back into his head. When the EMS arrived they tried talking to him and still nothing. When they placed him on the backboard is when he finally starting making noises, and coming around. Since I live in a town of only about 1,700 people, the EMS wanted to make sure they got him somewhere that was more adapt to the situation. So finally after about 30 minutes in my driveway we left to meet Life Flight, about 3 blocks down the road. There we waited an additional 15-20 minutes since the helicopter was coming from Bryan-College Station. Once PHI arrived they told me they were flying him to Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin. Once I finally arrived at the hospital which is about an hour and a half from where we live, I was told of his condition. He had suffered 2 seizures and hadn't waken up yet. He was in PICU over night. I didn't get any sleep and never left his side.
"I knew everything was going to be okay when at 2 am he woke up saying Momma. He got out of bed Easter Sunday and for the first time since I got him out of the car the day before I held him. He tried walking but stumbled and kept falling. I thought that maybe he would have some eye hand coordination problems. My mother stayed with me at the hospital and she left Sunday morning to go home and get us some clothes. We asked Sam if there was anything he wanted, and all he said was his Nemo (Finding Nemo Blanket), and his cowboy boots. Well that afternoon they took us to him new room. He had no neck brace, and all that was attached was the IV tube. The only visible mark was one on his neck, and some bruising from the IV that was in his leg, and on his arm. We were scheduled to see Physical Therapy Monday morning but since he was already up, running and was playing peek-a-boo with the nurses, they canceled it and sent us home. Due to his accident CPS was called, and I got kicked out of my mothers house. It was either the kids go to foster care or I leave. They wanted me and my fiancé to take psychological and drug tests, and parenting classes. I was also looking at criminal charges, all because no one believed me that he did it his self. The day he came home he proved to them that he did do it. All has ended and well, Samuel is 3 now and doing great. The only mark now is a very faint dark line on his neck."
"I'll never forget the day I learned of the dangers of power windows, or the date. It was Friday the 13th of June of this year. But as my father would later say in the ER, it was a lucky day for us.I stopped by our machine shop around 3pm, which is just around the corner from our house, to see my husband and pick up mail and paperwork. We then went home, stopping for mail at the foot of the drive, then continuing around the back of the house and parked by the barn. It was finally not raining for a while and the afternoon was beginning to heat up. The air conditioner in our 92 Buick having been permanently put out to pasture, I sat there behind the wheel, trying to decide whether to roll up the car windows against threatening rain or leave them down to keep the car cooler for our 5 p.m. departure to a ball game. I decided to roll them up.
"Up front, my 13-year-old daughter Cheyenne and I gathered piles of mail, parcels, filing, etc. and I called to my son, Mac, age 5, in the backseat to gather up his things. He didn't answer me, but I was aware that he was up and moving back there. Still behind the wheel, I contemplated the unmade dinner and the disabled computer that awaited me. I gathered my things and left the car before Cheyenne did. I was about 20 yards from the car when I heard her scream. Something to the effect of "He's stuck" and "he's blue" are all I can recall. I dropped everything and ran. As I did, it occurred to me that a power window couldn't be easy to push down but I was a freaked-out mom on adrenalin, and that window didn't have a prayer. Was I wrong.
"I got to the door. He was limp and hanging by his neck from the rear passenger window. As I approached the car, I could see from his face sticking out of the window that he was unconscious and cyanotic. I opened his door and, admittedly, I recall avoiding looking at my son's face. I struggled with the power window, which didn't budge. I couldn't believe it. (My arms hurt for days.) Cheyenne meanwhile, even though distraught, was able to follow directions and turned the car on and opened the window. I lowered Mac onto the gravel by the rear passenger tire and waited briefly, very briefly, to see if he would start breathing. He didn't. Since he couldn't have been stuck for more than a minute or two, I assumed his heart was probably still beating so I went straight to rescue breathing. My RN license came in handy. I gave him one breath. Nothing. On the second, his eyes fluttered. On the third, he began to sputter and cough and then to cry....very loudly. (Thankfully!)
"Our reunion didn't last long. Within a half a minute, he was buckled back into his car seat and we were on our way to the shop to pick up my husband for the run to the hospital. Considering our distance from town, it was the quickest way. In between episodes of shuddering and crying on the way to the hospital, and explanations to my husband, I tried to put things together. Maybe he had leaned on the button with his knee, (push buttons, I later learned, are key to many power window deaths and are a very cheap fix.) It also had already starting going through my head, 'why don't car windows work like automatic garage door?'
"Monday morning I got on the phone. My car is a 92 Buick; maybe things have changed since it was manufactured. I called GM. I spent a better part of my morning on the phone. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone who had a clue about what I was talking about. We were even 'accidentally' cut off. I finally gave up and called our local Buick dealer. And no, there had been no changes in 10 years. I then called a foreign car dealer in our town and told him of the near death of our son. He was appalled and exclaimed, "You mean they don't have auto-retract?" I then got on the Internet and found Kids and Cars. I found out that this had been going on for 40 years and that the U.S. auto industry was fully aware of the problem. And if I had been in a Volvo, this would have never happened.
"I am so grateful to Kids and Cars for the opportunity to help make this a public issue. The subject of death and injury related to poorly designed power windows has been confined to the privacy of the lawyer's office for far too long. My greatest hope today is that the U.S. automakers begin utilizing the pullup/pushdown-buttons switches and auto-retract now. In the least, people should be made aware that they are driving around with Guillotines in their car doors. It's time for the U.S. auto industry to do something about this besides calling us bad parents while they write out settlement checks."
"My name is Angelica Smith. I am a thirty-two-year-old mother of six children from the ages of two thru thirteen. My vehicle is a 1993 Plymouth Grand Voyager. August 25, 2003 was like any other day, UNTIL the incident that changed the lives of everyone in my family.
"My children and I went and picked their dad up at about 7:00 p.m. On the way home we stopped at my parent's house to pick up laundry that I was doing earlier that day. I parked on the street in front of my parent's house. A few of the neighbors were outside talking, and there was a basketball game going on about 30 ft. away. I turned the van off, then turned the key back to keep the radio on. I told my family I was just grabbing the laundry and to wait for me. I walked in the house, went to the dryer and was pulling the clothes out putting them in a basket. Suddenly something very mysterious came over me; something I still can't explain very well. I stopped in the middle of what I was doing with an article of clothing in my hand and instantly and very quickly went straight to the front door, opened it up and looked straight at my van. I saw my youngest daughter with the van window rolled up on her neck, and she wasn't moving. Just like in the movies, where the hall gets real long and the girl can't run fast enough, that's how I felt. I had tunnel vision, because all I remember seeing was my little girl. I don't remember making any sounds or hearing any sounds. But the neighbors said I was screaming loud enough for the heavens to hear.
"I was face to face with my baby, the window rolled up on her neck and her hands. Her eyes were wide open staring straight at me, but she wasn't there. My face was inches from hers, and I couldn't think. I was trying to pull the window down with my hands. I just wanted her out of there. Her whole face was a dark blue, and her lips were a dark purple. Her mouth was open with foam in the corner. She was dead and I wanted to die! Only seconds had gone by since I found her, but it felt as though time had stood still. The next thing I knew her dad was behind her pushing the button to roll down the window. I reached in and pulled her lifeless body out, clutching her in my arms, running to my parent's front door. I would like to change the focus for a second to let you know a few important things about my dad. In March of that year (five months before the incident) he had to have a liver transplant. My father's illness and the transplant took a hard toll on my father's physical body, but never his spirit. His recovery never did to well. About two weeks before the incident his body started suffering rejection. My father was very ill. The days before the incident he could hardly get out of bed, he was in so much pain.
"What happened next I believe with my heart and soul was a miracle. Someone, who was on his deathbed, was given strength from God. He heard my screams and met me at the front door. He took his granddaughter into his arms and told me to call 911. He ran to his bed, laid her down and began CPR. I was on a cordless phone torn between wanting to watch, praying for any signs of life and not being able to watch my sick father on his knees trying his hardest to give life back to her....to us. For the first time, I was able to see what was going on around me. My children, brothers, sister, and neighbors were all standing and running around. Everything was chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying. My children saw their little sister's lifeless body.
"It felt like forever before the medics got there, but in reality it was about 5 minutes. I heard the ambulance approaching when my dad yells "she's alive!" I'll never forget the joy in my heart and soul at that given moment. It felt a hundred times better than the day God first gave her to me.
"I have only the best wishes and regards for all the people who work for the emergency services who touched our lives that dreadful day. Everything they were able to do for my daughter was a blessing and I thank God every day. I also have only wonderful things to say about Cincinnati Children's Hospital and their staff, what a wonderful group of people. I'll always be thankful and will never forget how well they treated my daughter and I during our stay at the hospital and all the months of aftercare.
"Looking back now, the first three months I was very traumatized by this. It changed everything. I was so afraid one or more of my children was going to die. All day, every day, I fought with my own thoughts. I did not want to go anywhere or do anything but keep all six of my children at home and in my sight at all times. I couldn't help it. I couldn't make it go away. The incident kept replaying in my head, and in my dreams. August 25, 2003 was the worst day of my life, until November 20, 2003 when my father passed away. He is and always will be close to my heart. Not only was he a wonderful dad to me, he gave me back my baby with Gods will. He told me before he died, that if he only lived through the transplant and all those very ill days to save her life, it was worth it to him. GOD BLESS MY DAD!
"I don't know if my daughter remembers or not. She doesn't like anything on her neck, and neither do I. I can still see the diagonal line on her neck, as if it's now a permanent crease. She had some minor nerve damage to her eye, that over the past two years has almost completely recovered. I learned a lot of different things from all of this. One being that because her head was at an angle, it didn't crush her esophagus. Electric windows roll up with a great deal of pressure for just a window. Another thing that I learned was a child's brain can only go up to three minutes without oxygen before causing permanent damage or even death. The condition that I had found her in; not breathing, no heartbeat, and blue in the face; it had to be one and a half to two minutes before I found her. But was able to get her to my dad and he got oxygen to her brain within that small window of time.... Oh, how blessed we were on that day.
"The summer of 2004 I received a phone call from Cincinnati Children's Hospital regarding interviews that a few local news stations wanted to have with me about my daughter's incident. I greatly obliged in doing so. I thought it was important to let people know this happens. Another thing that I learned was this type of 'rocker-arm' window switch that is located flat on the armrest of both my front doors, is a very poor design. Children have been and will continue to be injured and even killed at the hands of this type of design. I can't tell you how disturbed and hurt I am about these facts.
"I wrote letters to Chrysler and spoke with a couple of people who tried to make me feel as thou this was only my fault. No apologies, no explanations. They did however have two recalls that they would like me to take care of at their expense, one was the windshield wiper pivot that could come off and cause an accident, and the other was the steering column could come off and cause an accident. What about the windows? And recently it was pointed out to me by Dennison Keller, who is a Cincinnati channel 12 news reporter and the one who told me about KidsAndCars.org (thank you) that my van also can be shifted into any gear without it running or breaks being applied. I also have huge blind spots. We all drive deathtraps. These manufacturers need to be more concerned with lives and not dollars. I read story after story and people just want changes to save lives. We can't get back what these accidents take from us, but if it can prevent another from occurring, that is the only comfort that helps to heal."
"I will never forget what day the most terrifying incident of my life happened, because it occurred on my daughter's 4th birthday. It was not only her actual birthday, but the incident occurred on our way home from her birthday party. We were all in really good spirits. The party was really fun for everyone, and the kids were a bit wound up on sugar and fun times. Before leaving the party, my husband stuffed a bunch of balloons in the back of my minivan. I had a bad feeling in my gut, and told him I didn't want so many balloons blocking my rear window vision. Not wanting to be the bad guy, by not allowing my daughter to have her birthday balloons, I went against my better judgment, and allowed my husband to stuff them in the way back.
"Katie Ann's cousins wanted to ride with her, so we put their boosters in my car. After I checked to make sure everyone was belted in safely, we were off. The girls were singing and being silly and started pushing the balloons around. I told them not to push them up too far, because I didn't want one getting up in front with me while driving. By the time we were home, all of the balloons were pushed up to the 2nd row, and they were right behind me, so I couldn't see any of them. We were home though, and my oldest niece kept asking if they could get out of their seat belts. I said, "No, not until we have come to a complete stop." Well, we came to a complete stop, and they must have jumped out at that moment before I turned the car off. Since I couldn't see because of the balloons, I just told them to wait by the door, and I would open it. It's a big step down, and I didn't want them to all tumble out. In hindsight of course, I should have made them stay in their seat belts til I came around to open the door. In hindsight though, I would not have allowed those balloons in my car either.
"Funny, looking back, how my biggest fear at this point was them tripping getting out of the vehicle. I turned the car off, walked around to the door that I knew they were at, and in all honesty I could not tell you at what point I heard something about a window and Payton's head being stuck, because it was from that point on that I had never felt such unbelievable terror in all of my life. I understand how when you have been through something traumatic, it is hard to remember everything in detail, especially right after it happens! Before that it was just them all being loud, like they had been the whole ride home, and I remember hearing what must have been Payton saying, 'Aunt Christine, Aunt Christine,' but it didn't sound any different than the way they all were excitedly wanting to take their seatbelts off, and have me open the door for them, etc.. Please also remember that we are talking in seconds and nano seconds here. So, when I heard about a window, etc. I ran to the door, and when I saw Payton's head stuck in the window of my car, well, it is impossible to describe the sheer terror that took over me. It was choking her. Her face was a reddish purple, and she was saying repeatedly, 'Aunt Christine, Aunt Christine.'
"I would like to say I was calm and cool, but I was truly hysterical. I started screaming at the two other children to open the window. I then tried to open the door, knowing that it being a sliding door, I would need to keep it from sliding all of the way with her head in the window. I just wanted to get her out. When I couldn't open the door, I realized that the car was turned off, and I had to turn it on to get her out. I remember panicking, thinking, "what if I can't find my keys"- I was afraid I had dropped them when I had run to the window. I cannot remember when I dropped everything, but when my husband and my brother-in-law came home, the mail, my broken sunglasses and wallet were all laying in the driveway. All I know is that I remember being relieved that I had the keys, or found them, I really don't remember. I think they were in my hands, but I truly can't remember. As I ran back to the driver's side to start my car, I remember thinking, 'she's going to die, oh, my god, she's going to die, and it's all my fault, oh, my god.' I screamed, 'Help me!!!!' as I was running. I knew no one was around, but screamed out of sheer terror. It must have been when I screamed that my right contact went into the back of my eye, so now I could only see with one eye. God heard me though, because after I screamed I remember a loud, deep, low voice saying in my head, 'Start the car, and open the window.'
"This seems like such an easy task, under normal conditions, but I needed to keep telling myself what had to be done, since I was in a state of panic. I was shaking when I put the key in the ignition. I then pulled the other two children out of the car, saying, 'Get out of the car, get out of the car -- stay there and don't move!' I am not sure why I did this. Your adrenaline is pumping so fast, and I think I wanted to make sure that I pulled the window down, instead of up, and due to the balloons and the other two children, and my panic, I wanted them out so I could get up close and make sure I was hitting the button properly. Of course, looking back, this was not smart either, but shows how unbelievably panicked I was. When I got the window down, she was thankfully OK, with just a reddish/purplish face, and a line across her neck where the window was strangling her. I immediately turned my car off, and brought them all inside, where we stayed together.
"Once we had all calmed down -- I was speaking calmly to them but still shaking unbelievably. I found out that my daughter was the one who had pulled the power window switch, thus pushing the window up onto Payton's throat. Seeing what it did to her in just seconds, I can only imagine in my darkest nightmares what would have happened had she strangled by the window any longer. I could not believe something like this could happen to me. I am so safety conscious, and I couldn't believe that I didn't even check to make sure my window lock-out button was pushed. My husband often sits in the back with my daughter, who sits in the middle seat, and they had wanted the window opened, and I forgot to push the button back. This can also happen if you stop to ask directions, and need to open your passenger side window, and forget to push the button down after, with all the distractions you have with kids in your car!
"What I really can't believe is that the automobile industry thinks that having the toggle switch that my car has (I drive a 2005 Toyota Sienna), will prevent children from being strangled by power windows. Well, this is obviously not true. What is really needed is auto-reverse on all windows, including the sun-roof. They would act like garage doors, which when they detect something in their way, go back up, instead of crushing whatever is in their path. This is long overdue, and I cannot even believe that the automobile manufacturers can live with themselves knowing that so many children have been killed by power windows, when it could so easily be prevented. There is no reason why these windows should be made to come up with such deadly force.
"The picture you see of the three cousins was taken the day after the incident, and I will always cherish it, and will always be so grateful that Payton is alive today. So many children have not survived power window strangulation, and these tragic and preventable deaths of children must be stopped."
Here's a 9News report about the Aurora incident.
More from our News archive circa November 2012: "Heather Jensen allegedly left two kids alone in running car while meeting man: One died."
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