Image: Chicago Tribune reporter Maurice Possley
55 complaints, 7 entrapments and three deaths weren’t enough to recall defective Simplicity Cribs, until the eve of a reporter’s expose.
Maurice Possley has been a reporter at the Chicago Tribune since 1984.
Recently, when he began investigating the recall of Simplicity Cribs for a mattress support failure, he noticed something that didn’t make sense.
Internal documents from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), showed just as many complaints for a drop-railing that would detach
from the crib creating a gap in which infants had become entrapped.
And at least three children had died, seven had become entrapped and 56 “incidents” were attributed to the defective drop-rails and hardware found in Simplicity/Graco cribs.
“I called the CPSC and said, you had a death and all these complaints, why do a recall on one thing and not another? There hadn’t been a death from the mattress support problem. They said, “We’re not going to talk to you. When is your story going to run?””
The Chicago Tribune investigative report, Hidden Hazards, was set to run Sunday, September 23rd.
On Friday, September 21, the CPSC announced the largest recall of full-size cribs—more than one million Simplicity and (Simplicity-made) Graco cribs were to be pulled from the market because of unsafe drop-railings.
“The question I had pending to them was how many cribs have this hardware and what other model crib. When they called Friday and said 1 million I was stunned,” Possley told IB News.
More than one month after the recall, on October 25th, the CPSC issued an official “fix” to the problem, hardware that would be sent to consumers by Simplicity to immobilize the drop-side.(See our story Crib Recall I)
More Than Two Years After the First Death
On April 11, 2005, Nicola Johns of Citrus Heights, California, put her 9 month-old son, Liam to bed in his Graco crib. When she woke about 6:30 a.m. she found Liam had slipped, feet-first through a gap created when his crib’s drop- rail detached from its plastic track. With his feet dangling, Liam could have easily slipped to the floor. But his head was trapped between the mattress and the rail and he asphyxiated.
The Sheriff’s office impounded the crib and John’s other son was temporarily removed from the home. Three days later when authorities ruled the death an accident, they returned the crib and her son.
Pictures show where the drop railing failed. A federal investigator assigned to Liam’s death, Michael Ng, told the Tribune he didn’t have time to see the crib or track its model number and manufacturer. If he did, he might have discovered the Graco brand Aspen 3 in 1 was made by Simplicity.
And in the time since Liam’s death, many more complaints have come in about the defective railing problem as outlined in the Tribune’s Hidden Hazard report and at least two more infants have died.
When Possley and the Tribune inquired about Liam’s death, only then did the investigator Ng return to California to find the crib. Why didn’t he investigate thoroughly two years ago? Ng told
Gap in Johns' crib
the Tribune, “We get so many cases, once I do a report, I send it in and that’s it. I go to the next case. We could spend more time, but we are under the gun. We have to move on.”
As a result of Liam’s death, attorney Charles Kelly of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against Simplicity which was settled out of court in early 2007. The settlement terms are sealed.
The other two children who have died since Liam are: 6-month-old Edward Millwood, from Georgia who died when he fell between his mattress and drop-rail in November 2006, and 8-month-old Royale Arceneaux, of Houston, who suffocated in February, 2007 after falling between an improperly installed drop- rail on a Crib N Changer Comb.
Both families have filed lawsuits against Simplicity.
And the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tells IB News it is currently investigating the death of a one-year-old infant from Boca Raton, Florida who may have died in a Simplicity Crib with newer style hardware that was installed upside down. That would be the fourth death in a Simplicity crib.
Three days after the CPSC launched the massive recall of one million cribs, a class action lawsuit was filed in Minneapolis by Amber Spitzer, a mother whose one-year old daughter was uninjured but was sleeping in one of the defective cribs. The suit names Simplicity, Graco and also names Target where the crib was purchased in April, 2006.
Child safety advocates are calling for congressional hearings to explain the delay. And Illinois Senator Richard Durbin is demanding for a timeline from the CPSC to explain why it took years to warn parents about 1 million flawed cribs. (See Crib Recall 3)
The Aspen 3 in 1 was one of Simplicity’s best-selling cribs.