Columbia boy is fatally crushed at parents' home by garage door

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An 8-year-old Columbia boy who likely tried to race under a garage door before it closed, died when it struck him on the head and pinned him to his family's driveway Wednesday night.

Simon Robert Decker was playing alone about 6 p.m. in the driveway of his home in the 10300 block of Sixpence Circle -- in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village west of U.S. 29 -- when the accident occurred, Howard County police said.

His parents and neighbors vainly tried to save him by struggling to lift the garage door by hand, then administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. "This was so freak an accident that we may never see one like it again," said Lt. David Carroll, spokesman for the Howard County Fire Department, which responded to the emergency.

Deaths from automatic garage door accidents are considered extremely rare, according to federal safety experts. Victims usually are children between the ages of 2 and 14, said Ken Giles, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesman. Doors sold after 1992 must have safety devices to prevent such accidents.

The commission says that from 1982 to 1992, the most recent figures available, 48 people were trapped and killed by automatic garage doors in about 26 states. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than people were injured by automatic garage doors in 1994.

"People should take this seriously," Mr. Giles said. "An automatic garage door is easily the heaviest moving object in a house. If it goes out of balance or otherwise isn't operating properly a bad accident can occur."

In this case, there is no indication from police that the garage door, built in the 1970s, had safety devices that malfunctioned. No one witnessed the accident. Police, calling the death accidental, are trying to piece together "the most likely scenario of what we believed happened," said Sgt. Steven Keller, Howard police spokesman.

According to a police report, Simon likely hit the garage door button and tried to race under it before it closed. He lost consciousness when it hit him on the head, knocked him on his back and pinned him.

Neighbors Peter and Mary Muncie found the boy -- described as slight of build -- lying unconscious on his back with the garage door wedged on his chest about 6:10 p.m. His arms were spread apart on the driveway and his legs were inside the garage, Mr. Muncie said. "The boy was very blue about that time," he said. "We have no idea how long he was there."

Mrs. Muncie ran to the boy's home, where his parents Gregory and Deborah and his 12-year-old brother, Nathaniel, were eating dinner. "When Deborah saw her son she started screaming, 'My baby! My baby!' " Mr. Muncie said. "She then tried to lift the door off of him by herself but it didn't budge."

While Mrs. Muncie ran to homes along the 15-house cul-de-sac looking for someone trained in CPR, Mr. Decker came outside talking on a cordless phone with the police dispatcher, Mr. Muncie said. After neighbors lifted the door off of Simon, three performed CPR until paramedics arrived, he said.

"It was quite chaotic and everyone around was emotional and shaken to see such a little boy that we all knew hurt, simply from a garage door," neighbor Joan Crawford said. "This whole thing has broken my heart. My heart aches for the family."

The boy never gained consciousness and was pronounced dead at Howard County General Hospital, police said. The state Medical Examiner's Office said he died of a head injury and compressional asphyxia -- defined as a lack of oxygen due to pressure on a body part.

"He was sort of shy, not boisterous at all. . . . Whoever would have thought that a garage door could kill a kid," Mr. Muncie said.

The automatic garage door involved in the accident was a Sears model, according to Howard police. A national Sears product service office said yesterday that the model number on the device shows it was made in 1975 and sold between 1975 and 1979 -- long before regulations were adopted requiring safety devices that can prevent injuries.

"Most folks on this street have been here for 10 or more years -- and sure a few have been replaced -- but most people don't think about the need for it until something tragic like this happens," Mr. Muncie said.

In an effort to reduce the number of children being trapped and killed by residential automatic garage doors, the automatic garage door industry agreed to begin including safety devices on a voluntary basis in 1982, Mr. Giles said. But it was not until Jan. 1, 1993, that the federal government put into effect more stringent safety requirements.

The regulations require doors to include one of three safeguards. The three devices are mechanisms to reverse closing doors if motion or objects are detected in their paths and wall-mounted control buttons that require people to hold them down continuously while doors close.

Safety experts believe most accidents are caused by doors that lack the safety devices now required or by doors that have not been checked to ensure they are operating properly.

"The main thing we are emphasizing to people is that we don't want to see one again and the only way to do that is to get people to make sure they get a door that has the safety protections and keep it working right," said Lieutenant Carroll, of the county Fire Department.

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR GARAGE DOOR IS SAFE

* If the garage door opener was sold before 1993, there is a strong chance that it doesn't have an automatic reversing device that causes the door to back up if it strikes any object or an electric eye that does the same when it detects objects in its path.

* Owners of garage doors with automatic reversing devices should test them monthly using manufacturer's instructions by placing a block of wood under the open door and activating the closing mechanism. If the door doesn't reverse when it strikes the wood, the mechanism should be disconnected until it is repaired or replaced.

* Homeowners should regularly inspect the door's activation device to make sure it is well-secured to a wall. Activation devices should be placed at least 5 feet above the floor to keep them out of reach of children.

For more information, contact the Industry Coalition for Automatic Garage Door Opener Safety at 800-727-2338.

?3 SOURCE: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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