Monday, March 29, 2010

Two boys survive crash that kills 9 - police credit their child restraints

Tragic crash kills 9, but two boys survive a crash in KY - due to their child restraints.

MARROWBONE, Ky. - As members of a close-knit Mennonite community prepared to bury their own, they sliced through wooden planks with electric saws Saturday and wrestled with the loss of a family of nine killed in a central Kentucky crash.

The casket work was determined and solemn, yet the buzzing saws pierced silent prayers under way in a nearby home where churchgoers reiterated their belief that the deaths were God's will.

Nathaniel Yoder was among those laboring inside the workshop of a vinyl siding business owned by John and Sadie Esh, two of the 11 people killed Friday when a tractor-trailer crossed an interstate and collided head-on with the family van as they traveled to Iowa for a wedding.

It's kind of morbid," Yoder said. "I never did anything like this. The only thing that helps is to know they're all in heaven."

The sole survivors were two young siblings adopted by the Eshes.

Although burial still hadn't been scheduled for the Mennonites involved in the crash, the community had picked a final resting place. Eight family members and Joel Gingerich — Yoder's close friend who was engaged to one of the Eshes' daughters — were expected to be buried at a makeshift cemetery in the grassy churchyard, a few feet from a volleyball court.

The only grave there now belongs to Johnny S. Esh Jr., who died in a 2006 snowmobiling accident during a mission to Ukraine. The small marker, sitting on grassy flatland near several farms, reads: "Lost in wonder, love and praise." The woman getting married in Iowa had known him from the Ukraine trip.

Many Mennonites fought back tears and consoled one another, trying to understand the tragedy.

"It's a little like a tapestry," said Kai Steinmann, 25. "If you focus on one piece, it looks black and bad, but it has to be a part of a bigger whole."

'Jesus may come today'
Preliminary investigations showed the tractor-trailer left the road and plowed over a cable barrier in the median before it struck the van, said Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. A cause has not yet been determined.

He said there was at least one witness, a second tractor-trailer driver who pulled two surviving children from the wrecked van.

The Esh family has experienced hardship before — and their community was quick to respond then, too. A fire destroyed the family's home last year, forcing one of the girls to escape by leaping out of an upstairs window onto a trampoline. Within two months, other Mennonites had built them a new home next to John and Sadie's vinyl siding business.

On Saturday, a sign that read "Jesus may come today" was on the mailbox.

Church member William Carey helped build the house and was back helping construct the casket boxes.

"Instant depression and letdown," Carey said. "I am still in shock."

Marrowbone Christian Brotherhood opened as a sister congregation to one the Eshes attended in North Carolina. About six years ago, it was transitioned from New Order Amish to Mennonite, allowing members for the first time to drive motorized vehicles.

That was when John Esh bought the 15-passenger van that was involved in the crash. Pastor Leroy Kauffman recalled getting his driver's license with Esh, also a minister in the church, who was reluctant at first.

"He was concerned about stepping the lifestyle up in the faster pace," Kauffman said.

Florist Wanda Branham, who wasn't part of the Mennonite church but knew many of the family members, recalled Gingerich often stopping by her shop to buy one or two roses for Rachel Esh, his bride-to-be, who also was killed in the accident.

Sometimes, Branham's husband would tease Gingerich, urging him to spring for a full dozen.

"He would say, 'I'm not that far yet,'" Branham recalled.

Boys survive
But Monday, four days before the crash, Gingerich was in the shop for his largest order yet — one dozen red roses, and a dozen pink.

Hazel Smith, who works at an adult daycare center, said the Eshes would often sing there, including their rendition of "Amazing Grace." The family, full of singers, had recorded several albums and traveled many places in the van hit by the tractor-trailer.

In addition to John and Sadie Esh, the dead included their children Anna, Rose, Rachel, and Leroy and his wife, Naomi. Jalen, the adopted infant son of Leroy and Naomi, also was killed. Funerals for the family and Gingerich were set for Tuesday.

Family friend Ashlie Kramer and the truck driver, 45-year-old Kenneth Laymon of Alabama, also died.

The only survivors of the crash were two boys from Guatemala also adopted by the couple as infants. Police credited child safety seats for sparing Josiah, 5, and Johnny, 3.

It took Josiah little time after the crash to begin asking where his parents were.

When told they had gone to heaven, Kauffman said the boy reacted almost as if he already knew.

"He seems to be kind of in shock — very quiet, very subdued, just watching what's going on around him," Kauffman said. "Very heart-wrenching."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Car Seats Make the Difference Between Safe and Sorry

Radian XT Car Seats do their job in mother’s collision with dump truck.

What started out as a festive drive to a holiday gathering suddenly turned horrific for Leah Bechtol of and her two young children.

It was snowing lightly the afternoon of December 28th, 2009, when Leah set out from their home in Ashland, Ohio, in her new mini-van to exchange Christmas gifts with a friend approximately 23 miles away in Tiffin. She was driving cautiously on State Route 603 with her son, Wyatt, 4 years, and daughter, Mira, 2-1/2 years, each strapped into their RadianXT car seats, facing forward in the back seat.

They had just completed the lower portion of an S-curve and were on a short straight stretch when Leah noticed a large truck approaching them in the oncoming lane. The fully loaded, 70,000 pound dump truck had crossed the centerline and was veering toward the van. Leah reacted instantly to evade a collision by steering the van toward to the right shoulder, but it was too late.

The dump truck struck the front corner and driver’s side door and continued along the length of the vehicle, pushing the van off the road into a ditch, and tearing off most of the left side of the van. The vehicle was so mangled that EMT crews had to use the Jaws of Life to free Leah, Wyatt and Mira. All were taken immediately to nearby MedCentral Hospital.

The children remained in their car seats until they had been examined by the ER doctor. Leah suffered several broken bones on the left side of her body, air bag bruising and the loss of a tooth. She went into emergency surgery that evening and has been in a cast and a wheelchair since being released from the hospital.

The children each had slight bruising from their car seat straps and tiny cuts from the window glass, but were otherwise unharmed.

Following the crash, Sunshine Kids, the manufacturer of the children’s RadianXT car seats, performed a thorough evaluation of both seats. Sunshine Kids’ Director of Engineering, David Clement, said that the seats came through the accident with “no significant damage to the seats or the key structural components.”

Brad Keller, President of Sunshine Kids said, “This was a frightening experience for Leah and her children, and we share the family’s relief that Wyatt and Mira had no serious injuries. This kind of positive outcome validates the way we design and test our products. When it comes to protecting children in these kinds of accidents, you simply cannot compromise on engineering or quality.”

Leah is recovering from her injures and expects to be out of her cast and wheelchair by the end of March. She expressed her appreciation to Sunshine Kids in a recent letter to the company:

“Despite the severity of the crash and of my injuries,” Leah wrote, “we are so very grateful and relieved that our children were unharmed. We know that your excellent product (RadianXT) was a major factor in their safety and we want to thank you for making these high quality car seats.”

Even though the Bechtol’s car seats were structurally sound after the accident, Sunshine Kids’ provided the family with two new RadianXT car seats through the company’s Crashed Restraint Exchange Program. For more information about this program, go to

About Sunshine Kids Juvenile Products
Sunshine Kids manufactures, markets and sells travel solutions for the children of today’s families. With innovative product designs and unparalleled safety testing, Sunshine Kids conveniently secures and protects children through every stage of your journey. With more than a decade of experience, Sunshine Kids is recognized by consumer and trade organizations for its unique functionality and thoughtful design in 48 countries worldwide, while maintaining offices in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. For more information on the renowned Radian and Monterey car seats and travel accessory line, visit

For More Information Contact: Kathy Laux, Marketing Director 253-859-5700, ext 122,

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Skidmore family donation

Meet the Skidmore family!

This darling cutie is 2 years old, 35lbs and was outgrowing his previous seat, the Alpha Omega forward-facing by height. He will have plenty of growing room in his donated Britax Regent.

Many thanks to Michael Toth, CPST, who showed Ms. Skidmore how to correctly install and use her new seat. Ms Skidmore noted, "Today my son got his Britax Regent installed by Officer Toth and another officer. Everything went well they got his seat in nice and snug. I want to thank you guys for helping our family.

Kyle you will always be in our hearts. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!"

Each seat the foundation donates costs approximately $200. We have a waiting list of ~100 families at any given time - all consisting of children who are at risk whilst they await our ability to assist. Please consider a donation to the foundation of any size you can afford, to help keep more children safe. You can donate using PayPal to the right of our blog, or you can donate using Debit/Credit/Check. Details are here. Thank you so much for your support and dedication to keeping children safe!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Frontier 85 review

I was very excited to get my hands on the long rumoured and awaited, updated Britax Frontier. The new model is called the Frontier 85 and reflects the increased weight capacity from 80 to 85lbs.

When the original Frontier was released, I'll be honest, I was disappointed. Yes, I wanted the side impact protection that was in this seat and yes, the fact that it would convert to a belt positioning booster seat eventually when the harness was outgrown, was attractive. Then I read the information on the top harness slot height - 18.25 inches. That was a full 1.75 inches lower than the Regent (which presumably, the originaly Frontier was going to replace). I won't lie to you, I have two Regents in boxes in my basement set aside for my older son so that when he eventually outgrew his current seat, I would have a Regent for him to move to. Why? Well, naturally I wanted to harness him for as long as possible.

Information that the Regent was going to be discontinued hit the streets (hence the unopened boxes in my basement) and it was thought at that time that the original Frontier was going to be the only high weight harnessing option from Britax available.

Christine Miller immediately contacted Britax when this news broke and appealed for a comparable seat with at least the same top harness slot height to be available prior to the Regent going away. Britax promised her that they would take her plea seriously and examine what could be done. I'd like to personally applaud Britax for their response and introduce their offering to you - the Frontier 85.

Unboxing the new seat was exciting and I immediately set about reading the manual which was very clear and had some great information that I was thrilled to see in there - e.g. warning about dangers of bulky clothing.

The new seat can be used in harness mode between 25 and 85lbs, between heights of 30 and 57 inches and for children who are at least 2 years old. I applaud Britax in limiting this forward-facing only seat to children over 2 years - hopefully re-enforcing the message that children should remain rear-facing for as long as possible. In booster mode, the seat should be used only with children between 40 and 120 lbs (I believe the previous Frontier did not specify a max booster weight) and between heights 42 and 65 inches. I would have loved to have seen a minimum age restriction of 4 years of age here to emphasize 'best practice' of not boostering a children under age 4 years and 40lbs. The foundation of course recommends harnessing for as long as possible, and I have a minimum age recommendation of 6 years before considering a move to a booster so that a child has gained sufficient maturity to sit correctly in a booster seat.

My willing model had previously been secured in a Britax Marathon, forward-facing and is currently 36lbs and 4 1/2 years old. He was on the third harness slot of his Marathon. On the Frontier 85, he is second from bottom harness height and crotch buckle is moved out one position. There are a total of 10 harness height choices (up from 8 on the original Frontier) and three crotch buckle positions. The crotch buckle cannot be emerging under from under the body of child.

I had a small problem with the harness shield on the back of the seat - when I unclipped the tether anchor from that, the shield fell off completely - I had to do quite some persuasion to get the shield back on and to stay on. Seemed like there was some fit issues here with the plastic.

I performed a LATCH installation in my vehicle quickly and simply. There is one adjustment side for the lower anchor connectors. Sometimes on seats, that can lead to tough times getting the belt tight enough, however, following the instructions in the manual, pulling the end through the opening on the front of the seat, I was able to tighten things down snugly.

I attached and tightened the top tether anchor. This is recommended to be used for installation, but REQUIRED in harnessing mode for children 65lbs and above. If your vehicle does not have a top tether anchor (generally older than a 2001 model year), you can usually have an anchor retrofitted, and often for free. I loved the attached elastic on the tether strap which enabled tidy folding and storage of the excess strap.

Those of you who already have the Frontier will be familiar with the positioning block - this is located under the seat - it swings to the back for booster mode and should be swung to the front for harness mode. This gives the seat a recline for harness mode. The block now snaps and is held in place - previously, it would spring back to booster mode when you lifted the seat to install it in a vehicle, which was annoying.

In the above picture, you will see the space between the back of the Frontier 85 and my vehicle seat - this is due to the recline caused by the positioning block.

The harness adjusts smoothly and easily - I found it to be much smoother than the already smooth Marathon. The release lever is a push design, similar to those on a Graco Snugride with the strap a similar width to those infant seats. I am not sure if this was the same on the previous Frontier, but it was a surprise to me. The adjustment is low down and I think would be tough for a child to loosen on their own - great news for parents whose children would loosen their harness themselves on the go. My son was able to secure himself and tighten the harness appropriately himself this morning - I obviously checked it as well, but this was good for children who like to assert their independence in this manner.

The built in cup holders were a big hit with my husband! He actually does base a lot of his vehicle buying decisions on the available cup holders. Coming from the UK where I never thought of this as a buying criteria, I thought it was funny....but apparently, cup holders are important commodities. My son too was impressed that his new seat had these. I'll be honest, it will be great to have fewer "I've dropped my milk" cries from the back seat.
Comfort wise, the seat has been reported to be "very comfy!" and the reduced seating height from the Marathon in the vehicle has been noted, as this seat does not rest on the base like a convertible seat. The view outside has not been reported as adversely restricted though.

My product tester certainly gave this seat the thumbs up as you can see!

Here are a few highlights of the seat - let me know if anyone has any questions!
  • 9 year lifespan from date of manufacture
  • 4 adjustment heights for booster mode (down from 6 on previous model)
  • option "Secure Guard" clip for booster mode - this is similar to the one available on the Parkway SG - ~ $20. The purpose of this is to prevent submarining in booster mode and helps keep lap portion of seatbelt low on the child's hips and off the abdomen.
  • Britax recommends harnessing mode of this seat until the harness is outgrown before considering moving to booster mode - yay!!
  • Harness height is adjusted by a release lever in the back - no rethreading of harness is necessary. The seat does need to be uninstalled from the vehicle in order to adjust the harness height.
  • Top harness slot height - 20 inches
  • Long and short belt path installations available for lap/shoulder belts - this can help eliminate any vehicle incompatability. Unlike they Regent, there is no requirement for one method or the other at various child weights.
  • Dimensions at base - 19 inches deep and 19 inches across.

The Frontier 85 is currently available for pre-order from Hip Monkey, our sister site where all proceeds from sales go directly to the foundation, and in turn to purchasing seats for families in need. Release date of the Frontier 85 is March 9th.

Castro family donation

Meet the Castro family!

The foundation was delighted to be able to recently donate a Britax Regent to the Castro family. The adorable recipient is 4 year old (which a younger infant sibling) and doesn't she just look so comfy in her new seat? Many thanks to CPST, Rochelle Carlton, for all her assistance with this installation!

Here's a note of thanks from Ms. Castro:

"I would like to tell you and everyone who works so hard to run the Kyle David Miller Foundation thank you very much for providing my daughter with a safe car seat. My family and I really appreciate it. [My daughter] was so excited about her car seat, she was telling all her friends at school and relatives that she was getting her big girl car seat. She didn't stop talking about her car seat the rest of the way home. She kept going on and on about how it's perfect for her and she loves it. She was telling her little sister that when she grows out of the car seat that she will pass it on to her. My husband and I feel so much more safe with [our older daughter] in a car seat. Being a low income family it's nice to know that there are wonderful people who run and fund organizations like the Kyle David Miller Foundation. You will always be apart of our life.

We are truly thankful,
The Castro Family"

It was a pleasure Arlene!

Each seat the foundation donates costs approximately $200. We have a waiting list of ~100 families at any given time - all consisting of children who are at risk whilst they await our ability to assist. Please consider a donation to the foundation of any size you can afford, to help keep more children safe. You can donate using PayPal to the right of our blog, or you can donate using Debit/Credit/Check. Details are here. Thank you so much for your support and dedication to keeping children safe!