3 babies die; cribs recalled

The Baltimore Sun

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

After inquiries from the Chicago Tribune for an investigation of Simplicity 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 between 1998 and May 2007, it is the largest recall of full-size cribs since the safety commission 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 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 past week, the Tribune shared its findings with Simplicity and the safety agency, seeking comment.

The response was the sweeping 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 infant entrapments 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. "This is the thing to do, and that's why we decided to do it now."

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."

Fix criticized

But a leading child-product safety advocate criticized the decision to leave parents responsible for making the fix.

"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 strangled to death in a portable crib that collapsed. "We would urge Simplicity to reimburse any parents who would feel safer returning the crib."

Waldman said consumers could expect to receive the repair 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."

Yesterday's recall was just the latest in a series of such actions resulting from revelations about dangerous consumer products.

Agency under fire

U.S. senators who have been pushing for improvements in how the CPSC does its job said the crib recall was further proof that the agency needed more vigorous enforcement and less influence by industry on its investigations.

Yesterday's recall was the largest ever in the U.S. for full-size cribs. In 1997, Evenflo recalled 1.2 million smaller, portable cribs.

The Simplicity crib models covered by yesterday's recall 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 Simplicity cribs that used the Graco logo: Aspen 3 in 1, Ultra 3 in 1, Ultra 4 in1, Ultra 5 in 1, Whitney and Trio.

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

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

Maurice Possley writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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