A hope chest where a young Massachusetts brother and sister died after apparently becoming trapped had been recalled by the manufacturer years ago, the district attorney investigating the case said Tuesday, calling the deaths “a tragic accident.”
Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said preliminary autopsy results indicate the deaths of the 8-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy at their Franklin home on Sunday were accidental. He said toxicology tests are still pending.
Morrissey said the chest, which had a lid that could only be opened from the outside, was made in 1939 by the Lane Furniture Company of Altavista, Va.
In 1996, Lane recalled 12 million cedar chests with lids that automatically latch shut after receiving reports of six children suffocating inside. In 2000, Lane – in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission – called for a renewed search for the chests after becoming aware of another suffocation death and two near fatalities.
Morrissey said people who own similar chests, which also were made by other companies, should check them.
“We would urge anyone who has any kind of chest, hope chest or piece of this type to examine it with new eyes,” Morrissey said. “If you close the lid and have to press or manipulate something on its exterior to get it to open, we urge you to contact the manufacturer for guidance or consider disabling the mechanism yourself.”
Lane’s current owner, St. Louis-based Heritage Home Group, said it will continue to make replacement locks available to people who own its chests, and consumers should remove the latch plate until a replacement is provided or the chest’s safety is verified.
The company said it “extends its deepest condolences to the family that has suffered this unthinkable tragedy. We wish them comfort at this most difficult time.”
Morrissey hasn’t released the children’s names. A neighbor, Dawn Powers, said they were Lexi Munroe and her brother, Sean Munroe. Lexi was a friend of Powers’ daughter.
Family members found the children together inside the chest. Police responded to their home at about 8 p.m. Sunday, and the children were taken to hospitals but did not survive. A spokesman for Morrissey said several family members, including an adult, were home at the time.
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