Federal regulators today recalled about 1 million cribs made by Simplicity Inc. because the drop rail on some of the nation's best-selling models can detach from the crib, creating a dangerous gap that has led to the deaths of at least three children.

Following a Chicago Tribune investigation to be published this weekend, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of cribs sold under both the Simplicity and Graco name. It is the largest recall of full-size cribs since the agency was created in the 1970s.

"We want parents to know,'' CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said in an interview. "We do not want your child in that crib tonight."

The agency said it is aware of two deaths in Simplicity-manufactured cribs with older style hardware where the drop-side was installed upside down. One of those children was a 6-month-old in Georgia; the other was 9-month-old Liam Johns.

Reached at her home in Citrus Heights, Calif., Liam's mother, Nicola, began to weep when she learned about the recall. "I feel like there is a stone or weight off my chest," she said. "So many kids' lives can be potentially saved because they took the right action finally. I hope this is a step forward.

"It helps to bring closure that this won't happen to others," she said. "Nothing will bring Liam back, but if this saves one baby's life, it will mean so much to me."

The CPSC also is investigating the death of a 1-year-old child in a Simplicity crib with newer style hardware, in which the drop-side was installed upside down. CPSC is warning parents and caregivers to check all Simplicity cribs to make sure the drop-side is installed right side up.

But the agency indicated that the crib's flaw can be dangerous even if caregivers properly install the hardware. "CPSC is also aware of two incidents that occurred when the drop-side was correctly installed with older style hardware, though the upside down installation greatly increases the risk of failure,'' the agency said.

Consumers who have one of the cribs cited in the recall should contact Simplicity (888-593-9274 or www.simplicityforchildren.com) to obtain a repair kit with new hardware. If the crib already has the newer hardware (see attached graphic), consumers should still check the crib's drop rail to ensure it is assembled right-side up.

The three deaths occurred because the drop rail was installed upside down due to the poor design of the crib. In addition, the CPSC said it is aware of seven infant entrapments and 55 incidents in these cribs.

The Tribune investigation details the April 2005 death of Liam and how the CPSC investigation failed to identify the model and manufacturer of his crib. In addition to Liam's death, the story to be published this weekend will document other complaints about the drop rail separating.

More than two years after the child died, following the paper's inquiries, the CPSC sent an investigator earlier this week to finally retrieve the crib and examine its flaws. Three days later, the agency announced the massive recall.

"The drop-side failures result from both the hardware and crib design, which allow consumers to unintentionally install the drop-side upside down,'' the CPSC said in its announcement. "This, in turn, can weaken the hardware and cause the drop-side to detach from the crib. When the drop-side detaches, it creates a gap in which infants can become entrapped."

The recalled Simplicity crib models include: Aspen 3 in 1, Aspen 4 in 1, Nursery-in-a-Box, Crib N Changer Combo, Chelsea and Pooh 4 in 1. The recall also involves the following Simplicity cribs that used the Graco logo: Aspen 3 in 1, Ultra 3 in 1, Ultra 4 in1, Ultra 5 in 1, Whitney and the Trio.

The cribs have one of the following model numbers, which can be found on the envelope attached to the mattress support and on the label attached to the headboard: 4600, 4605, 4705, 5000, 8000, 8324, 8800, 8740, 8910, 8994, 8050, 8750, 8760, and 8996.

Made in China, they were sold in department stores, children's stores and mass merchandisers nationwide from January 1998 through May 2007 for between $100 and $300.

As an immediate precaution, the CPSC said consumers should check to see if the drop-side is installed right side up. To do this, it recommended checking to see that the slightly rounded rail with the decorative groove is installed at the top and the plain rail is on the bottom. Consumers also should make sure the drop-side is securely attached to the tracks in all four corners.

This is the largest U.S. recall ever of full-size cribs. In 1997, Evenflo recalled 1.2 million smaller, portable cribs.