DETROIT – A Detroit girl who died when her neck became trapped in the power window of a moving car would still be alive if the car – a recent-model Pontiac Vibe SUV – had auto-reverse devices for the windows, a child safety advocate said Friday.

The girl, 3-year-old Autumn Stanford, died Thursday night in the backseat of a car being driven by her grandmother, Sandra Ackins, 52, of Detroit, in downtown Detroit, Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tate said Friday.

Tate said there was no child safety seat in the vehicle and the girl, wearing pink tennis shoes, apparently was standing up in back. Under Michigan law, children age 3 and under, whether in the front or back seat, must be restrained in an approved child safety seat.

A CD of a minister preaching was playing very loudly in the vehicle, according to one account.

Tate said the grandmother “didn’t know that the child was in the window. She didn’t know how that could have happened without her knowing.”

Janette Fennell, founder and president of the nonprofit Kids and Cars organization in Leawood, Kan., said, “They call it the silent killer. Please understand that as soon as that window goes up, they’re trapped. They cannot call for help. It goes up so quickly with 40 to 80 pounds of pressure. It probably takes 8 to 10 pounds of pressure to kill a child.

“This little girl would be alive today if auto reverse was in that vehicle.”

Detroit police investigators and the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday reenacted the incident, with Dr. Cheryl Loewe, the deputy medical examiner, holding the child’s body in the backseat while trying to determine how the girl could have activated the window.

“We opine that the window was unintentionally closed by the child with her foot,” Loewe said later. “If she were standing in the backseat, all she had to do was put her foot on it, and then her head becomes entrapped in the window, thus blocking the blood supply to the brain, which is asphyxia.”

Loewe determined the cause of Autumn’s death was positional asphyxia and the manner was accidental.


Officials with General Motors Corp. could not say late Friday whether the Vibe was equipped with a rocker-type switch to activate the window or a pull-up switch, in part because Detroit police could not provide a model year. A rocker-type switch is easily activated with downward pressure.

Alan Adler, GM’s legal and safety communications manager, said most GM vehicles were equipped with flush-mounted lift-up switches for power windows beginning in the 2007 model year.


The Pontiac Vibe is made in a joint project with Toyota, Adler said, and is virtually the same as the Toyota Matrix.

“The key thing here, as tragic as this is, is that this child was not in a child seat,” Adler said. “The ability to get to any switch is much greater when they’re not properly restrained in the back.”

Officials from Toyota also were checking Friday on the style of switch in late-model Vibes.



Fennell said safety advocates persuaded Congress this year to mandate that beginning in 2008, power window switches will no longer be the rocker type and instead require pull-type switches. But bills that would have required carmakers to install auto-reverse switches, which reopen the window quickly if there is an obstruction, died in Congress, Fennell said.

Tate said police detectives were finishing the investigation and had not yet turned over their reports to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges.

Sandra Ackins declined to speak to a reporter who went to her northwest Detroit home on Friday. The girl’s mother, Trulia Ackins, could not be reached.


According to Tate, the incident occurred just before 10 p.m. Thursday when Sandra Ackins was driving in the Greektown area.

Another driver waved Atkins down and told her to look behind her, Tate said.

“Sure enough, the 3-year-old’s head was stuck in the window of the driver’s side rear seat,” Tate said.

Cheri Henry, an employee of the Atheneum Hotel, ran out and tried to give the child CPR while yelling for someone to call 911, said Andre Williams, the hotel’s bell captain.

Henry declined to comment Friday, but Williams said Henry ordered someone to turn the car’s sound system down as two women, whom he took to be the child’s grandmother and mother, screamed in distress.

Loewe said police told her the driver was playing a CD of a minister preaching with the volume set extraordinarily loud.

“It’s a very, very sad case, particularly around Christmas,” Loewe said.

Tate said only the grandmother and the child were in the car when the accident occurred.

The child likely died at the scene but was taken to Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, Tate said.

Fennell said statistics about power-window injuries or deaths are hard to come by because the federal government counts only accidents involving moving vehicles, and most power-window injuries occur in parked cars.

Still, she said there are an estimated 500 injuries reported from such accidents every year, half involving children. In 2003, eight children nationwide died after being trapped by power windows, she said.

“This is so preventable,” Fennell said.



(c) 2006, Detroit Free Press.

Visit the Freep, the World Wide Web site of the Detroit Free Press, at http://www.freep.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-12-23-06 1754EST


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.