Do You Have A Deadly Hope Chest In Your Home?

Original Airdate: February 25, 2014

Millions of Americans have cedar hope chests in their homes. They're air tight and perfect for storing clothes, linen and family heirlooms. But what most people don't know is that some of these chests can be deadly.

The danger comes from the locking mechanism on the front of the chests made by the Lane Furniture Company under the brands “Lane” and “Virginia Maid” between 1912 and 1987.  You have to push a button on the outside of the chest to open it. But if a child climbs inside and the lid closes, there is no way out. Suffocation and death comes quickly. 

Just last month a brother and sister from Massachusetts suffocated after they became trapped while playing inside one of these chests.  It also happened to Tracy Hart's two sons, thirteen year old Chris and six-year old Sean, who died together in a Lane hope chest while playing a game of hide and seek.

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“I just remember opening it and I remember screaming,” Tracy says. “It hurts in every way you can imagine.”

And it's not just little kids. Even 15-year-old Natalie Massarella, from Columbus, Ohio, suffocated in a Lane hope chest. Her mother, Mary, discovered her body. 

“I opened it and I found her. And I screamed for [my husband] to call 911,” said Mary.

There are still six million of the dangerous chests in circulation.  Lane Furniture recalled them in 1996 and offers free replacement safety latches.  But despite the recall, Inside Edition had no trouble finding hundreds of the dangerous hope chests for sale all over the country – all with the original, lethal locking mechanism. 

We went to an antique shop in Westport, Connecticut where we found one for sale with the same deadly lock. The store's owner, Jim Klinko, said he'd never heard about the Lane hope chest danger, or the recall. He was so concerned that he immediately called Lane Furniture's customer service line.  “I would feel terrible if a kid got hurt in one,” Klinko told the customer service representative.

If you have a Lane hope chest with the push button latch, you can easily fix the problem by simply taking the old latch off.  We did it by removing just three screws from the upper latch on the lid of the chest.  Without it, the lid cannot lock shut.

Robert Adler, Commissioner for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, made a sobering prediction, “I'm very afraid that we will see that happen. It's been happening on a regular basis since 1987. There have been nine deaths, including the most recent two deaths. So I'm very concerned that it may happen again.” 

So, how far back does this problem go? Consider this: Chris and Sean died in 2001. Fifteen-year-old Natalie died in 1999. And their heartbroken parents want everyone to know that the danger is still out there. 

“I remember seeing her,” said a tearful Mark Massarella. “They let us go in the hospital and she was laid out on a table and that's my lasting memory of her.”

Lane Furniture, now owned by Heritage Home Group, declined to be interviewed on camera.  The company stopped making the chests with the deadly lock in 1987. In a statement, they said they will continue providing the free safety kit for anyone who has one of those deadly chests and they expressed their condolences for the family of the two children who died just last month

CLICK HERE to order a free safety kit from the manufacturer.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.