WELLSVILLE, Cache County — Joanna Lee was driving some Boy Scouts through a Wellsville neighborhood Wednesday afternoon delivering fliers for an upcoming food drive.
Lee's 4-year-old son, Phillip, was with his mother and the Scouts, and he wanted to join the other boys as they made their rounds.
"He wanted to run around with the Scouts to help put the notices on the doors," said Eric Lee, Joanna's husband. "My wife thought that he was at the door with one of the Scouts and so she was pulling ahead to the next house and felt the bump."
It was the worst of all possible events that in this case, had the best possible outcome and it's something that happens in Utah about once a week.
Joanna Lee stopped the car and opened her door. Her little boy was on the ground. The front, driver's side tire had run over Phillip's torso.
"He was just right in front of (the van), and she couldn't see him," Eric Lee said. "He's short enough, she didn't see him at all."
By Thursday morning, Phillip was drinking chocolate milk and playing "Candy Land" with his grandmother. He was badly scraped and bruised, but a full CT scan showed no broken bones or other serious injuries, his father said.
Phillip was one of the lucky ones.
"We've had this happen before, and it hasn't had this kind of outcome," Cache County Sheriff's Lt. Brian Locke said. "This happens on a far too regular basis."
"It actually happens, on average, once every seven days in Utah," said Janet Brooks, child advocacy manager for Primary Children's Medical Center. "They're not all fatals, just like this little person (was not), but it happens once every seven days, on average."
A review of Utah Department of Health data and police reports from 1997 to 2009 shows that 790 children ages 9 and under were run over by vehicles, claiming the lives of 57 children. Most of the accidents occurred during the months of May and September and the highest number of incidents, 17 percent, occurred on Saturdays with the lowest number, 8 percent, on Sundays.
The greatest risk is too the youngest children. About 75 percent of all the incidents involved children under age 5 with the greatest number of accidents involving toddlers.
"No. 1, they are very active," Brooks said of the age group. "They are exploring. They are quick, and largely they do not perceive the risks that perhaps an older child would."
Public health officials point to another common trait in this type of accident:
"This is something that is preventable," Brooks said. "It's not a stroke of luck. It's not fate. It's not Mother Nature. It's our behavior. So if we are ever-diligent in developing safety habits and safety behaviors, most of these can be prevented."
Jenny Johnson, the department's health education specialist, said the Spot the Tot program the state Health Department works on with Primary Children's Medical Center has a demonstration that surprises even her.
Using a vehicle and a mat, program organizers show how many steps back a child has to be before he or she is visible.
"It's amazing to me how far back (children) have to be for you to see them," Johnson said. "Parents obviously don't think anything is going to happen to their child, and they would never do it intentionally. It just takes seconds for kids to get behind a car. It is really difficult to see (them)."
Still, she said there a number of things that parents can do, for themselves and for their children, to prevent accidents. For one, parents should keep the windows rolled down so they can hear children, bicycles or anything else they might not see.
"If you know you're going to be transporting children, do a head count every time before you start the car," Johnson said. "Take a simple walk around your vehicle. It takes seconds to walk around and make sure no one is around or close by your car."
These precautions are necessary even for those who have vehicles equipped with cameras or alerts that notify drivers if there is something behind them. Such devices wouldn't be able to detect a child on the front or side of a car, where Brooks said children are also struck.
"You should be taking advantage of those technologies if you have them on your vehicle, but still get out and check," Johnson said. "You shouldn't rely on them."
Teaching children that "cars are not toys to be played around or on or in" is also key, according to Johnson. She said older children should be taught to watch for younger children and notify parents and caregivers when they're close to cars.
"These are just simple, little, quick things that are so important and save lives," Johnson said.
Eric Lee called the traumatic event for his family this week was both an accident and a miracle.
"My only thought is that you can be as careful as possible as a parent, but sometimes accidents happen," he said. "We just really wanted to give credit to God, because we think it's an absolute miracle that he's doing as well as he is."
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