April 24, 2009 in News

Children in van crash weren’t in safety seats

By and The Spokesman-Review
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Although the city-owned vans involved in a crash in northeast Spokane on Thursday were equipped with booster seats, none of the children was buckled into one, police said.

Six of the 19 children were required to be strapped in the safety seats. Police will issue citations for failure to use the safety seats in the Northeast Youth Center vans, said Mike Aho, recreation supervisor for the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department. It was unclear to whom the citations would be issued.

None of the students and two drivers involved suffered serious injuries, but 15 were taken to hospitals in ambulances after one van rear-ended the other on Wellesley Avenue near North Cook Street about 9 a.m. Thursday.

“I don’t know why they weren’t in their booster seats,” said Kimbre Vega, center director. The center is part of the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.

John Wiley, media relations manager for the Department of Social and Health Services in Spokane, said the Child Protective Services agency within DSHS was notified of the accident but will leave any investigation to the state’s Department of Early Learning, which licenses day care facilities.

Amy Blondin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Early Learning, said that the agency will conduct a licensing inspection at the youth center to go over requirements for properly transporting children, but that the accident is not being investigated as a license violation.

“We are not anticipating any license action at this time,” she said Friday.

Police met with the center staff Friday to talk about the laws governing booster seats and other safety requirements.

Every member of the 26-person staff is trained to drive children, and that training includes information on proper safety restraints, Vega said.

The employees involved in the crash, Alex Aragon and Amanda McIver, passed drugs tests conducted after the crash and will likely return to work, Aho said. McIver is out on medical leave recuperating from the crash, and Aragon will return after the department rechecks his driving record.

Aragon was cited for following too close after slamming into the back of a van driven by McIver. McIver had stopped to allow a child to cross Wellesley Avenue when the collision occurred, police said. The children were being driven from the center to Logan and Regal elementary schools.

Fourteen children and one adult were taken by ambulance to local hospitals, but the most serious injury reported was a cut to a child’s cheek that required stitches.

Children up to age 8, unless they are 4-foot-9 or taller, must ride in a child restraint, according to state officials. The child car seat, booster seat, vest or other product must be federally approved.

In March 2004, a 6-year-old boy was left unattended at Harmon Park by youth center staff. The center retained its child care license following a state investigation.

The boy was left behind at the park following an afternoon field trip with 22 children, city officials said. Two staffers in charge of the trip each reported that they believed the boy was in the care of the other.

A neighbor spotted the boy alone and called police. Meanwhile, youth center staffers returned to retrieve the boy. He was taken back to the center.

The investigation of that incident came about a month after the city was served with a notice of revocation for its child care facility at the East Central Community Center. The revocation stemmed in part from an incident the previous fall in which an East Central child was left unattended in a center van.

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