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Girl loses 3 fingers after accident on mall escalator

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- A girl who caught her hand in an escalator while shopping with her mother and two other children Friday lost three fingers on her left hand.

Kerriana Johnson, 5, still has her thumb and little finger, said James Jewell, the fiance of Kerriana's mother, Lori Medvitz.

The child was injured at the foot of the down escalator at Dillard's in Tyrone Square Mall.

"From what I understand, her shoe got caught in the escalator, and when she tried to retrieve it, it took her hand," said Jewell. He said that Kerriana's shoes did not have shoelaces. "I don't understand how anything could get caught in one of those things."

Officials at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg would not provide an update Saturday on Kerriana's condition, and her mother could not be reached for comment. The girl was listed in fair condition Friday night.

Kerriana's mother was shopping with three children when the accident occurred. She was carrying 2-year-old Elisa, Jewell said, while keeping track of Kerriana and 8-year-old Tim.

Jewell said Medvitz had difficulty helping Kerriana at first because she had the 2-year-old in her arms. Two St. Petersburg police officers stationed at the mall removed steel panels at the base of the escalator to free the girl's hand.

Jewell said he was concerned that Dillard's had not tried to contact the family or check on the girl's condition.

"I have not heard from them, and I would think one of them would call and ask how she was doing or something," Jewell said.

Dillard's manager Kevin Sleeman referred calls on Saturday to Dillard's spokesman Gene Baker, who could not be reached for comment.

Charles Buckman, an elevator and escalator safety expert who often testifies on the subject in liability cases, said people most often have difficulty with escalators when they are about to get off and the stairs "collapse," or disappear. Often children sit on the escalator and catch their fingers as the stairs collapse.

"There have been quite a number of incidents where a young child loses fingers or a foot or toes, especially," Buckman said.

According to the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, 7,300 people are hurt each year on escalators, 35 percent of them children.

Buckman encourages parents of young children to use elevators or always hold children's hands on escalators.

Safety tips for escalators:

-- Watch the direction of the moving step.

-- Step on and off with extra care, particularly if you are wearing bifocals.

-- Hold the handrail.

-- Keep loose clothing clear of steps and sides.

-- Don't rest your purse or parcels on the handrail.

-- Don't lean against the sides.

-- Source: The Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation

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