You probably know ketchupqueen as a frequent commenter to CarseatBlog and she has even contributed an article or two for us. If you visit Car-Seat.org, you know her sage advice given as a Child Passenger Safety Technician and her community spirit. I’ve “known” her for years in cyberspace and even had a chance to meet her and her family last summer briefly (oh so briefly, lol!) inside a very dark rental car in a parking garage. (Hmm, that sounds bad, but I was just giving her a hand installing carseats—really!)

This is ketchupqueen’s family’s story of survival following a horrific rollover crash. As a tech, Anne knew how to protect her family and make sure they were safe, plus she had a little “inside” information that most “average” parents don’t have. As you read through our interview with her, you’ll see how this inside information helped keep her kids safe. This crash, while not sensational enough to make the news in Phoenix, has garnered the attention of the Special Crash Investigations (SCI) unit at NHTSA. SCI collects data from unique crashes and that data aids in designing safer vehicles.

They were on their way to Phoenix on Friday, March 25, to meet up with a group of Car-Seat.org-ers, some of whom live in the Phoenix area and some who were traveling into town for the Lifesavers Conference. KQ, as she is affectionately known, had been planning the get-together for some time and it was a shock when she updated her Facebook status to say that she and her family had just been in a crash. We later learned just how serious it had been. She has given everyone permission to share her story and pictures so that word can spread that properly restrained adults and children CAN fare well in devastating crashes.

A few miles outside of Phoenix, their van hit debris in the road. Because it was dark, they didn’t see it, but everyone felt the bump and they were suddenly airborne and into the gravel shoulder. The back left side of the van hit a barrier as the gravel caused them to skid. They then spun across the highway, Jeff, Anne’s husband and the driver, braked all the way across and slowed the van considerably. The van hit a ditch at an angle and became airborne again, landing on the passenger side nose first before flipping over upside down. Large landscape rocks deformed the roof over the front passenger seating position.

Injuries were surprisingly minor given the damage to the 2002 Honda Odyssey. Jeff and Anne were suspended by their seatbelts. Jeff was able to exit the van easily and has a mild lung contusion, seatbelt abrasions, and some road burn. Anne, on the other hand, needed to be cut out with the “Jaws of Life.” She has many stitches in her arm from where it was dragged along the ground, stitches on her face, and bruising all over. She also has a neck injury, but nothing broken. The girls, Emma, 6, and Maggie, 2, were relatively unscathed. Maggie, who was rear-facing, has no marks on her. Emma has some scrapes and bruises. Bridget, 4, took the worst of it at the point of impact. Her foot has a severe cut that required surgery and a broken leg.

So you know how they all were sitting, Jeff was driving. Emma was behind him in the 2nd row driver’s side captain’s chair and Anne was next to her in the 2nd row passenger’s side captain’s chair. Bridget was behind Emma in the 3rd row, driver’s side, and Maggie was behind Anne in the 3rd row, passenger’s side. Always thinking of safety, Anne had repacked the luggage before they left, making sure that the heavy items were on the bottom of the cargo area behind the 3rd row and the soft items, like pillows were on top. They stayed in place.

Please be warned that the pictures below are shocking and some of the interior shots show blood.

Blog: How is everyone doing?

KQ: Jeff is achy, so am I. My pain is managed well with Advil and Tylenol, though I am still having trouble sleeping in the spinal collar. Bridget just got her soft cast revised to a hard one, and this one’s below the knee. She still can’t walk on it til the sutures come out but it’s more comfortable. She’s in great spirits and as long as she takes her Tylenol, little pain. (The new cast is pink– that helps!) The sutures looked great and will come out in 2 weeks; then she’ll get a walking cast for 4, then be good as before! Emma’s scrapes and bruises don’t seem to bother her any more. She’s very anxious but is beginning to play about it (the other night we heard “I’m playing ‘Abba boomed the car and it was a horrible day.’ Because that’s what happened.”) That’s a good step in healing (Mr. Rogers and her pediatrician both say so!) Maggie is a little clingy and is jealous that Bridget gets so much attention! But, we’re going to heal quickly, and that’s good.

You chose rather unique carseats for your girls. Why? What will you replace them with?

I bought the Safeguards (Blog: forward-facing only harnessed seats) when they were discontinued because I didn’t like installing the Regent (I think this was just before the Frontier came out) and I knew that my long-torsoed kids, Bridget especially, would need tall higher weight seats to get to a safe booster age. I bought two because I got one for Bridget even though I didn’t intend to use it immediately, and Emma wanted one too! They ended up not being used for a while as higher weight rear facing seats came out and E and B went back to rear-facing for a while, but I have always liked their ease of use, comfort, and how easy it is to get a very good install with very little effort.

We were given the Zento by car-seat.org member minismom, a fellow tech, because Maggie was getting too tall for her Radian and minismom’s kids are small. She didn’t know when she bought it that higher weight rear-facing seats would be coming out. So she passed it on to us, because we’d been trying to figure out how to rear-face Maggie. As it turns out I did not like the install of the Complete Air (and she’s very close to the rear-facing weight limit on that anyway) in our van, and the Radian would only install at 45 degrees, and when it did she was over the 1″ rule. The Zento gave her room to grow and I was hoping to get another 6 months at least out of it before buying another taller seat.

I will probably replace the Safeguard Child Seats with Frontier 85s, as that is really the only practical option for our family with the size of Maggie and Bridey’s torsos. Adventuredad, a member of the forum who runs www.carseat.se, has very generously offered to ship, free of charge, my choice of Swedish seat to replace the Zento. (I chose the Akta/Graco Belogic. If that doesn’t get Maggie to four, we’ll probably follow up with a Two Way.) A note on the Swedish seat thing: while I do not TELL other parents to buy an illegally imported seat, I do feel that the US fails some of the taller or heavier children by not selling seats that allow rear-facing to at least 4 (and especially at more upright angles.) We need to revise the test bench so these seats can be approved over here. Until then, I make the parental decision to rear-face my children to 4 or beyond, by whatever means necessary, now that I know how important it is for their safety.

In the pictures, I see that the carseats moved quite a bit during the crash? Certainly you didn’t leave the seatbelts loose. How much did the carseats move? Did the belts stretch a lot?

I could get about 9 inches on Emma and Bridey’s seats. Only 3 on Maggie’s, and only at the belt path (go dual rf tethers!!! There was no movement at the top of the seat, none.) Those seatbelts stretched a TON, the seats did not move at all at the belt path when I checked them before we left. However- the belts were still in the lockoffs on the Safeguards, and had not moved! I think all the stretching happened at the other parts of the belt! This is good to know as the design is similar to the lockoff on the Chicco Keyfit and I’ve had parents express doubts that either would REALLY hold in a crash. They did.

     

I notice that your forward-facing seats were tethered. Are you aware that the LATCH Manual, a resource for technicians listing LATCH and tether weight limits among other things, lists a 40 lb. child weight limit for use of the top tether? If so, why did you decide to use them? Were the tethers deformed at all?

I am aware of this. That is one of my few disappointments with Honda! I chose to use the tethers because I feel it is safer. The LATCH manual also gives a great perspective on how parents can make that choice, and they point out that even if the tether fails, it is likely to have done its job and unlikely to harm anyone. And in Canada tether anchors have been used up to 65 lbs. for a while now, and we have not heard of any instances of them failing. In fact, I’ve never heard of a factory-installed or approved retrofit tether anchor failing. Honda doesn’t even list a weight limit in the manual, and encourages tether use when equipped (even back in the 2002 manual!) so if I were NOT familiar with the LATCH manual, it wouldn’t have even been a dillemma/parental decision. While I follow lower anchor weight limits because they are just a convenience feature, I always use top tethers with forward-facing seats because they are a safety benefit.

As it turns out the tethers did not deform. Not a bit! Even though for quite a while the seats were hanging upside down and the taut tethers probably put quite a bit of weight on them. Also you may notice in the pictures that the seats seem to have rotated out on the bottom near the belt path– but have been held in place at top. They rotated around the fulcrum of the tethers! That means that my childrens’ heads were kept further inside the protective shell of the vehicle, possibly preventing more head and/or neck injuries. I had never heard of this benefit, head excursion always being cited as the reason for tethering, but it makes sense! I do not regret my choice at all, and would make it again. I hope that Honda, and other automakers, will consider removing the top tether anchor weight limits or at least raising them to 80 or so lbs. so they can be used with most seats on the market, even if they don’t raise the lower anchor weight limits. Perhaps the way tethers are tested needs to be revised in order to do this; if so, I hope it will be.

One last point on the subject of tethers- we had, according to instructions in the manual, moved the center tether anchor outboard ourselves. I’ve heard people express some concern over self-retrofits, but Honda made it so simple to do, we really couldn’t mess it up. (We also later added an additional anchor back in the middle that we ordered through Honda, in case we wanted to use it some day, but never used it.) It wasn’t strained at the bolt or anything! It looked exactly as it did before the crash. Kudos to Honda to making the retrofit so simple and cheap that it is accessible to almost all parents, so they can tether their children’s seats! (Now, to just fix that pesky weight limit thing…)

What time did the crash occur? What were traffic conditions?

It was approximately 11:10 PM Pacific Daylight Time. It was moderately windy. The road was not crowded, but there were well-spaced vehicles visible in either direction constantly. We were lucky that no one was directly next to us when we spun (and so were they!) Several vehicles following us immediately stopped. Flow of traffic was the speed limit, 70, or slightly above (but we were only going 70.) We didn’t know at the time, but we found out when driving back in daylight that that entire stretch of the highway is littered generously with huge pieces of retread. It’s extremely hazardous and looks like it’s very infrequently cleaned. We think that’s what we hit. Jeff is going to be writing members of the AZ government about that problem.

It’s very soon after the crash. Do you think your focus has changed at all, such as advocating for extended harnessing or educating more on post-crash assistance?

I have always advocated harnessing any child not capable of sitting properly in a booster 100% of the time (at least at the times when they may not be capable, such as Emma when she’s asleep.) So that has not changed. I will continue to advocate for best practice restraint for all passengers, proper vehicle maintainance, and proper restraint of projectiles.

I would love for people to know what NOT to do when they are bystanders at a crash scene. I had to prevent a bystander from removing me, possibly injuring my spine; luckily I was conscious and able to do so. I did scream for bystanders to leave my children in their seats; unfortunately no one heard me (or they didn’t understand me) with all the noise and chaos and they were removed by bystanders. We were very lucky in that they did NOT have spinal damage, but if there had been, the outcome could have been horrible- they could have paralyzed my child/ren. I think everyone should be trained in basic first aid, CPR, and how to properly respond in emergencies of different sorts! Unless a vehicle is on fire (or about to be) or hanging from a cliff, do not remove passengers. Enter the vehicle if necessary to apply pressure to a wound spurting blood (not just dripping) with a jacket, shirt, or other cloth; otherwise the best thing to do is to summon help, calmly reassure the occupants without touching them that help is on the way, and if available give them blankets or jackets because they will likely be in shock (unless you’re a trained first responder who knows specifically what to do.) If you MUST remove an occupant due to fire, etc., try to keep neck and back in a straight line to each other. For instance, if possible, you can drag a person along the ground by the collar of the shirt, just to a safe distance, and then not touch them any more. Children in harnessed seats can be cut out by severing the seatbelt or LATCH straps, and removed as gently as possible IN their car seats in case of this kind of circumstance.

Your van was a 2002, so not the most recent model year and yet it protected you as it should have. What kind of maintenance had been done on it? Was it well-cared-for before you bought it?

We bought this van from a private party whose background was in the military and Homeland Security. He was serious about vehicle maintainance; we have records for the entire life of the vehicle since it was bought new. It had never been in any kind of crash. The transmission was new a year or so ago. We had changed the fluids and replaced the brakes and had the tires aligned, rotated, and pressure checked recently.

We bought the Odyssey because in the price range we were looking at, we could only afford older vehicles. Of these, the Odyssey and Sienna consistently had the best crash ratings; the Sienna did not have as many tether anchors available and I wanted flexibility, and also liked the deep cargo well and reinforced seat back in the Odyssey, so that’s what we got.

           

What kind of airbags was the van equipped with and did they deploy?

The van was equipped with front and side airbags. They did not deploy. I learned at KIM about how airbags work, and because of WHERE the hits were, there were probably not enough sensors triggered to deploy them.

Will you buy another minivan?  If so, will you buy anything other than a Honda?

We will buy another minivan. First of all, we plan on several more children if possible, so it doesn’t make sense to replace whatever we buy in just a few years. Second, we love the cargo capabilities, etc. of a minivan’s space. And then there’s what my friend Marc Cohen (also a member of the SafetyBeltSafe USA board, and the man who inspired me to be a tech- hi Marc!) calls the “lugnut principle”- “The more lugnuts in a vehicle, the higher the probability of surviving in a crash. It starts with bicycles, and goes on up through buses.” Basically, what that means is, the more mass in a vehicle, the more likely it is to be able to absorb forces and protect you in a crash.

While we briefly considered a Sienna, after having our rental Sienna I like it but don’t love it like we did the Odyssey. Also, I feel that Honda’s engineers did such a great job on the safety features of our van, I have trust in them, and I would trust my children’s lives to Honda again more than a brand I haven’t tried so thoroughly and found capable! Actually, I feel like sending the pictures to Honda, to show them how well their protective designs worked.

Thanks to MySillyKids for taking and sharing the pictures and thanks to ConnorsMommy to taking a pic of her van to show what KQ’s van looked like in its before state!