Three young children died after becoming trapped inside an unplugged chest freezer outside their Florida home, authorities said.
A 1-year-old, 4-year-old and 6-year-old were playing in their yard Sunday when they apparently climbed inside a freezer that adults had not yet brought inside their Live Oak home, the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office said.
The mother of the 4-year-old child told investigators she was outside watching the children play on a trampoline, but had gone inside to use the bathroom. When she went back outside, she couldn’t find the children anywhere, she told police.
The woman woke another woman asleep inside the home and the pair began searching their property and an adjacent vacant home for the children. When they opened the chest freezer, they found all three children inside and not breathing.
As they tried to resuscitate the children, they called 911. Emergency responders rushed to the home and took the children to an area hospital, but they could not be saved.
The women, who are friends who lived together at the home with the children, reportedly spent between 30 and 40 minutes searching before they opened the freezer.
Authorities said a hasp, or a slotted hinged metal plate over which a lock is fastened, had been installed on the lid of the freezer after it was manufactured so that a padlock could be secured.
“It is believed at this time that when the children entered the freezer, and the lid closed, the hasp fell shut, trapping the children inside,” the sheriff’s office said.
There was no padlock on the freezer at the time of the incident.
No foul play is suspected in the children’s deaths, but officials said the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Deaths of children who became trapped inside abandoned appliances, including refrigerators, were not uncommon in the U.S. until the passage of the Refrigerator Safety Act in 1956. The law required a change in the way refrigerator doors stay shut and led to the adoption of a magnetic mechanism over the then-common use of a latch. Individual states added to their laws to cover additional appliances, including Florida, where it is illegal to abandon anything with an airtight lid that a child can get stuck in.
Between 2012 and 2017, 17 people in the U.S. died after becoming trapped in household appliances, according to data released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission reviewed by WCTV-TV.
How to Keep Your Children Safe
The CPSC recommends individuals identify appliances or ice chests in their homes, garages, or vehicles, that could present an entrapment hazard and:
- Childproof old-style refrigerators and other appliances that are to be discarded or are in storage. The surest way to do this is to completely take the door of the appliance. In most cases, this is a simple process using a screwdriver. It is unlawful in many local jurisdictions to discard old refrigerators without first removing the door.
- Keep children away from old-style refrigerators, freezers, dryers or coolers still in use.
- Lock the door to your utility room and warn children not to play inside these appliances.
To report unsafe products or a product-related injury, visit www.saferproducts.gov or call CPSC’s toll-free Hotline at 800-638-2772.