Grieving mom has sad lesson from SLO tragedy

After her toddler died in a tip-over accident, she wants parents to check their homes

jhickey@thetribunenews.comApril 15, 2012 

Christina Rice has only nightmares in the bedroom she once shared with her 2-year-old son, Xander, and 14-month-old daughter, Ashlyn Fancher-Pena.

It’s the same doomed scenario repeating for hours on end: Rice is in the living area of her small home, changing Xander’s diaper, when she hears a loud bang in the next room. She runs in to find Ashlyn lying face up on the floor, still and silent, with a toppled dresser pinning her legs and a 27-inch tube TV keeled at her side.

Paramedics arrived in minutes to find Ashlyn unconscious but breathing. At Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, doctors removed the back of her skull to ease the swelling caused by either the television hitting her head, or her head hitting the floor. But she died six hours after the impact. It was March 8.

Rice believes that Ashlyn must have tried to crawl into a drawer, causing the dresser to tip. Her children had played on and around the dresser, pulling at its drawers for months without any problems, so the danger of it falling over had left her mind.

“Knowing this was 100 percent preventable, it kills me,” Rice said, with tears welling in her eyes during an interview at her home. “I feel like it’s my responsibility. I put the TV on top of the dresser,” she said. Rice decided to tell her story in hopes of preventing other parents from making the same mistake.

The San Luis Obispo Police Department ruled the death an accident, saying there was no evidence of negligence or criminality. “It’s just one of those things that happened, unfortunately, with very dire consequences,” Capt. Chris Staley said.

Between 2000 and 2010, there were at least 245 deaths and thousands more injuries related to tip-overs of furniture, televisions or appliances among children 8 and younger, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Sixty percent of all tip-over fatalities in that time involved a television.

“Supervision is always key, but you can also secure unstable furniture to a stud in the wall using brackets, braces, anchors or wall straps. Properly securing all pieces of free-standing furniture, large appliances or TVs can certainly help prevent tip-overs,” Kate Carr, president of the national nonprofit Safe Kids, wrote in an email to The Tribune.

Rice is a single mother —separated from her children’s father for several months. Rice, who works at Walmart in Paso Robles, said the financial struggle associated with leaving the relationship coupled with the death of her daughter is more than she can bear.

“I’m OK only because I have to be,” she said, because Xander needs her more than ever. “As a parent, I am much more observant and aware, more neurotic, I guess.”

Rice finds that talking about her daughter’s death helps her deal with it, and she wants parents to vigilantly child-proof their homes. Experts recommend getting down on all fours to imagine where a baby might crawl and what a toddler might push and pull.

“If this can save one child’s life — I can’t say it was worth it, but at least it wasn’t in vain,” she said.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service