Child safety: Couple focuses on car seats
A parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child.
Truckee parents Jim and Kristi Schaffner are living through that nightmare and are trying to prevent other parents from having to go through it as well.
Before the Schaffners lost their 11-month-old son, Luke, in a tragic car accident last June, they thought they had done everything possible to keep their baby safe.
Luke was killed in a car collision when the family’s nanny ran a stop sign at the intersection of Alder Creek and Highway 89 North, according to police reports. He was ejected from his car seat when the car collided with a sports utility vehicle.
The Schaffners found out a month later as they went over the police report they hadn’t installed Luke’s car seat properly. Even though they had read and followed the directions, the seat was not completely safe. They had correctly placed it rear-facing, but failed to use the accompanying metal locking clip designed to keep a passenger-side seat belt in place.
“After the car accident, we second guessed everything,” Kristi said. “But the awareness of the car seat didn’t even occur to us until we got the police report.”
The couple has no way of knowing if Luke’s death could have been prevented had the car seat been installed properly. But the shock of the report’s information forced them to ask some important questions.
“That was the most dramatic move to snap us out of grieving,” Jim said. “There were a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ but in the end, the thing that threw us into action was someone telling us we didn’t prepare enough.”
Knowing they could only move forward instead of moving back, the Schaffners began working with REMSA’s Point of Impact program in Reno and were both certified in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 40-hour training program. They have been studying crash dynamics and other information that has helped them understand their child’s accident.
They’ve learned how complex car seat safety is, and that incorrectly installing car seats is more a norm than an exception.
“Just knowing that we didn’t do everything we could, it made us more painfully aware that (car seats) are such a complex system,” Kristi said.
The results of REMSA’s Point of Impact 1999 Child Safety Inspections were shocking: of 795 car seats checked, 221 seats were replaced because of recalls and other defects and only 34 were correctly installed.
The various designs of seat belts in the auto industry combined with a wide range of car seat brands, each with a different set of instructions, make buying a car seat a rather vague task, the Schaffners said.
Jim remembers buying Luke’s car seat at Toys R Us. The couple walked down the car seat isle and looked up at the top shelf, and all they could see were boxes and boxes of different brands of car seats, most within the same price range. They said they just looked for the car seat that had the most bulleted features.
“And then that’s it,” Jim said. “No one tells you when you’re checking out, ‘that’s the wrong seat for you’ or ‘that’s the right seat for you.'”
He said there was nothing to cross-reference with.
“The real issue is the knowledge doesn’t exist,” he said.
Since their certifications, Jim has volunteered to check car seats at three REMSA checkpoints and Kristi has volunteered at four.
And with the help of about 15 local families that first met when Kristi was pregnant with Luke, the couple has organized the first Luke Schaffner Children’s Safety Day, which will run Sunday, Oct. 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sierra Mountain Middle School.
The event will offer free car seat safety inspection checks, free children’s ID cards, child and infant CPR introductions and bike and ski helmet fittings and information.
The family is using the Luke Schaffner Memorial Fund to put on the event, as well as donations from the community.
“It’s just evolved,” Kristi said. “It’s the perfect use for the fund. It’s a way to give back to the community.”
The Schaffners clearly saw there was a need in the community for this type of event, which could potentially impact many lives. Through this event, they hope to help create a stronger sense of awareness for children’s safety issues and to prevent other parents from suffering the loss of their child.
“Of course, our ultimate goal is to have a parent come back and say, ‘we were in a car crash and our child’s life was saved,” Kristi said.
Volunteers and sponsorships are still needed for the event. If interested in either of these opportunities, call Janis Viljoen at 583-2032 or Terry Hurt at 587-1044.
Although the Schaffners will never know exactly what caused their son’s death, organizing this event and helping other parents prevent a possible accident has given the couple strength in their tragedy.
“It can happen to anyone,” Kristi said. “I never in a million years thought I would lose a child in a car crash.”
“One of the things about living in Truckee is you’re not affected by gangs or crime. People think that bad things don’t happen here.”
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