Child Safety Must Be A High Priority

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I watched a beautiful 3-year-old girl die needlessly Sunday evening near Blythe, Calif.

The single-car accident occurred midway between Indio and Blythe.

Seconds after she was ejected from the car, the group I was traveling with from Los Angeles to Payson found her lying unconscious on the desert sand, just feet from the overturned car.

We did our best to save the girl. We administered CPR and provided comfort before she was transported to a Blythe hospital where she later died.

The toddler will never attend her first day of school, go to the prom, have a boyfriend or know the joys of motherhood.

Those of us who were there -- my two sons Gerry and Ryan, Mike Loutzenheiser, and Matt Gutierrez -- will never be able to erase from our minds the gut-wrenching sight of the precious girl's lifeless body sprawled among the weeds, rocks, and desert sand.

The California Highway Patrol continues to investigate, but from all indications the youngster was not restrained in an approved, protective child seat at the time of the accident.

The only child's seat at the scene was a "booster" type device lying several yards from the wreckage. Initial reports suggest it was not the type of safety seat that would protect a child in an accident.

Investigators said if the child had been restrained in an approved safety seat, she would have probably survived.

If the investigation does indeed prove she was not properly restrained, the parents could be prosecuted.

In Arizona, children up to 40 pounds must be restrained in a car seat. Children 40 to 60 pounds are required to use a special booster seat, which is buckled in with a shoulder and lap belt.

All 50 states require that an infant or small child be restrained, and with good reason.

Beginning with that little girl's first ride home from the hospital, her parents should have placed her in a car seat. It is a parent's responsibility to help the child form a lifelong habit of buckling up.

It is also the parents' responsibility to purchase a safety seat that is easy to use, correctly installed, and appropriate for the child's size and development.

Sadly, surveys indicate that as many as 35 percent of young children ride unrestrained, and more children are injured in auto accidents than in any other type of accident.

A few simple safety measures would have protected that girl in Sunday's rollover.

Had those basic rules been followed, she would be alive today, and probably looking forward to a trip to McDonalds, watching a television program or visiting the park with her parents.

But now she's a California Highway Patrol statistic, and a haunting memory for those of us who were there to witness her last gasps of life.

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