After inquiries from the Tribune for an investigation of Simplicity Inc. cribs, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of cribs sold under both the Simplicity and Graco names. Covering all cribs made by Simplicity from 1998 through May 2007, it is the largest recall of full-size cribs since the safety commission was created in the 1970s.
Despite 55 complaints and three deaths, it took years for the government to warn parents about flawed cribs.
Story: Missteps delayed recall
Sidebar: Tougher standards
Results: Huge crib recall
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Photos: Deadly cribs
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What parents should know
-Simplicity : Aspen 3 in 1, Aspen 4 in 1, Nursery-in-a-Box, Crib N Changer Combo, Chelsea and Pooh 4 in 1
-Simplicity cribs using the Graco logo: Aspen 3 in 1, Ultra 3 in 1, Ultra 4 in 1, Ultra 5 in 1, Whitney and Trio
-Read the government recall notice.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
-Check whether the drop rail is installed right side up and is securely attached to the tracks in all four corners.
-Check the crib for the recalled hardware, which has a flexible tab at the bottom of the lower tracks and open tops on the lower tracks.
-Do not use the crib before new hardware is installed. Until then, experts urge caregivers not to take children to bed with them; use a portable crib instead.
TO REQUEST A FIX
Simplicity at 888-593-9274 or www.simplicityforchildren.com
- Product Recalls
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The Tribune's reporting had found numerous complaints about the design of a popular Simplicity crib, the Aspen 3 in 1, documenting the failure of the federal watchdog agency to fully investigate the deadly failure of such a crib in 2005. Over the last week, the Tribune shared its findings with Simplicity and the safety commission, seeking comment.
The response was the massive recall. It includes the Aspen 3 in 1 -- Simplicity's most popular crib during the time the company sold 600,000 of them from 2002 to 2005.
Though all the cribs covered by the recall were made in China, the CPSC said it was Simplicity's flawed design and hardware that were responsible for the problem, which the agency said led to seven other non-fatal cases of infants being trapped and 55 other complaints of drop-rail problems.
The design flaw allowed caregivers to unintentionally install the drop rail upside down, weakening the hardware and causing the rail to separate from the frame. The three infants who died slipped through the resulting gap, became trapped and asphyxiated.
Simplicity President Ken Waldman said the company redesigned its crib hardware two years ago as a result of consumer complaints. But he would not say why the recall did not occur earlier.
"We analyzed the situation, and we needed to make a decision," he said in an interview.
The company is not offering consumers a replacement crib. Those who contact Simplicity can obtain a repair kit with the new hardware intended to keep the rail from separating. Asked about the decision to replace hardware instead of the cribs in their entirety, Waldman said: "Working with the CPSC, we found the best remedy was to send new, updated hardware."
But a leading child-product safety advocate criticized the decision to leave parents responsible for making the fix themselves.
"Given Simplicity's track record of four crib recalls in a little [over] two years, parents may want to take other measures such as discontinuing the use of the crib," said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, which was created after a Chicago child died in a portable crib that collapsed and strangled him. "We would urge Simplicity to reimburse any parents who would feel safer returning the crib."
Waldman said consumers could expect to receive the replacement kit "within four weeks."
Cowles noted that such a recall leaves parents with a difficult decision.
"If their crib is one of the unsafe ones, they have a dilemma of where to put their baby to sleep tonight," she said. "Sleeping on other surfaces such as adult beds or sofas or chairs is too risky. We would suggest if they have a portable crib or play yard they use when traveling, that might be the best solution until they can get their crib repaired or replaced."
Crib retrieved, long after death
The CPSC said it is aware of two deaths in Simplicity-manufactured cribs with the older-style hardware where the drop rail was installed upside down. A Tribune investigation determined the identity of those two babies: Liam Johns, a 9-month-old from Citrus Heights, Calif., died in April 2005. Edward Millwood of Woodstock, Ga., was 6 months old when he died in November 2006. Neither the agency nor the company would disclose the name of the third child who died when the drop rail separated from the crib.
More than two years after Liam's death, following the Tribune's inquiries, the CPSC sent an investigator this week to finally retrieve the crib in which he died and examine its flaws. Three days later, the agency announced the recall.
Waldman said the Tribune's investigation did not prompt the recall. He said the company speaks weekly with CPSC, "trying to make our products safer."