AUGUSTA – The tragic death of an infant at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray has prompted a Durham lawmaker to seek changes to emergency procedures in Maine’s state parks.

Rep. Michael Vaughan, R-Durham, said his proposal stems from the death of 2-month-old Olyvia Pratt, the daughter of Michael Pratt and Stacie Smith of New Gloucester.

On Oct. 11, 2003, the baby died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome while the family was visiting the animal park, according to her mother.

Family members were by the raccoon cage when Smith glanced at her baby sleeping in her sling. A moment before, baby Olyvia seemed fine, but now her lips were blue and her nose was bleeding.

“I screamed to my family,” Smith said. “My legs became numb. I yelled for help and began running.”

It was closing time and few park employees were working. Smith ran toward the entrance booth, screaming for someone to call for help. A phone in the booth was out of order, Smith said.

A park visitor called 911 on his cell phone. Another visitor administered CPR. “My dad was holding me down,” Smith said. “I was in hysterics thinking, ‘This is not happening!’ It was my worst nightmare coming true.”

When the ambulance arrived, the park gates were locked and the ambulance could not drive into the park through the narrow exit lane left open for departing visitors. The EMTs had to run up the long road, Smith said.

“They finally reached her, started CPR, brought her to the ambulance and got her to the hospital. Doctors tried to revive her,” Smith said, adding she was later told her only child most likely died in her arms from SIDS.

Even if the park had a working phone and EMTs were able to drive past the gates, her baby probably would have died, said Smith, who now serves on the Maine SIDS Foundation.

But the pain of losing her baby was initially magnified by the knowledge that emergency help was thwarted.

Vaughan’s legislation, which he has dubbed “Olyvia’s law,” calls for state parks to have at least one employee on duty during park hours trained in first aid, have working telephones and pay phones, and first-aid stations.

State officials are sympathetic to what happened, but are opposed to the bill because they can’t make the needed improvements unless more money is budgeted.

What happened in Gray was “very unfortunate,” said David Soucy, director of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands. The bureau is responsible for 45 state parks and historic sites, but not the Maine Wildlife Park, which comes under the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Bureau policy requires staff to have CPR and first-aid training, but doesn’t mandate that a staff member with that training be on duty at all times, he said.

“We take the safety of our visitors seriously and have training requirements and equipment to provide assistance,” Soucy said.

Meanwhile changes have been made at the Wildlife Park since baby Olivia died, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

All employees now carry radios that have direct contact with state police so help can be instantly summoned. Before, employees had radios but no state police channel, he said.

Also, a new key box has been installed on the entrance gate so emergency vehicles can drive in, Latti said.

Additionally, a cell phone is now available at the front entrance. And at closing time, any staff on duty must be out in the park and available to patrons, not inside offices.

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee has not yet scheduled a work session for LD 438.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.