Not again, says an activist who's trying to stop car-trunk deaths.
Eleven children have died since mid-July after being trapped in the trunks of cars - two near Pittsburgh, four in Gallup, N.M., and the five who perished Friday in West Valley City."I'm sick to my stomach," Janette Fennell said Friday when she learned of the latest tragedy. Fennell is a San Francisco mother who has campaigned since 1995 to require the installation of latch releases inside car trunks.
That's when Fennell found out what it feels like to be locked inside a trunk. She and her husband, Greig, were forced into the trunk of their car at gunpoint by a pair of robbers waiting for them inside their garage.
"Wham! goes the trunk and we're in total darkness," Fennell said. Until that moment, she said it had never occurred to her that there was a need for some way to open a trunk from the inside.
They didn't know that the masked intruders had taken their then 9-month-old baby, Alexander, out of the back seat and left him at the house, still strapped in his car seat.
Panicked over the safety of their son, the couple tried anything they could think of to escape as the robbers sped through San Francisco. "What I did was rip apart the inside of the trunk of our car," Fennell said.
Groping around, the couple managed to find the cable for the trunk latch in the passenger compartment of the car and free themselves. Their baby was unharmed.
"I feel because we were so blessed . . . I have to be a voice for all the people who have died, who would say to automobile manufacturers, `If there had been a little button, I would be alive today,' " Fennell said.
She has formed an organization called TRUNC - Trunk Releases Urgently Needed Coalition - to convince automobile manufacturers to install easy-to-find latch releases inside trunks.
TRUNC's Web site (www.netkitchen.com/trunc) has documented more than 600 trunk entrapments in the United States since the mid-1980s and states that victims die some 20 percent to 25 percent of the time.
Fennell said she has ferreted out her facts by searching for news accounts of cases similar to hers as well as those where children are trapped in trunks while playing. "I've just scratched the surface," she said.
She said parents should be aware that children are attracted to car trunks and can be clever about figuring out how to get into them. "Children love to play hide-and-seek. They love to be in small, confined places."
Even if a trunk is locked, children may be able to open it from inside the vehicle. "Their natural propensity is to push buttons and to pull things. Something goes pop, and they say, `Look, we got the trunk open!' "
That may have been what happened in the recent trunk deaths in Pennsylvania and New Mexico.
The bodies of two brothers, ages 5 and 2, were found in a car trunk Aug. 2 outside their home near Pittsburgh.
Authorities believe the boys got hold of the keys to the car and climbed inside with their puppies. The keys were in the trunk with the bodies of the boys and their dogs. Heat and a lack of oxygen in the trunk killed them.
In Gallup, relatives drove around their neighborhood for up to an hour on July 13 looking for four young cousins before discovering they were locked in the trunk of the car.
An aunt who was listening to the radio in the car opened the trunk after hearing a gasp. Two boys, ages 3 and 4, and a 2-year-old girl were pronounced dead after being pulled out. A second girl, 6, died a day later from heat stroke.
Deaths like these could be prevented with the installation of a release latch or button inside the trunk, Fennell believes. So far, she has failed to convince automobile manufacturers.
The cost to carmakers would be about 50 cents, according to Fennell. Last December she told interviewers on the television news program Dateline NBC that none of the major carmakers even responded to her requests.
She's tried Congress, too, also with no luck. That may change with the recent deaths. Fennell said she plans to contact Utah's congressional delegation for help.
Car owners can make the modification themselves for about $4, if they're handy, or can hire a locksmith for help, she said. A do-it-yourself kit with a video costs about $25. (Details are available on the TRUNC Web site.)
Children would have to be instructed on how to use the device. Fennell suggested a button or latch could be made big enough for a child to spot and painted so it glows in the dark.
"Show children that if something like this ever happens, here's how to push a button or flip a toggle switch to let you out," Fennell said. "Also, they need to scream and yell and make noises."