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Expert touch can be difference in child safety seat protection

Published February 25, 2007


SEMINOLE - Four years ago, anticipating the birth of his first child, Lee Harris visited the Seminole Fire Rescue station to make sure he knew how to properly install the infant car seat he and his wife had purchased.

"I had heard that some fire stations would check out your car seat, make sure everything's good and show you how to transfer the seat from one car to another and reinstall it correctly," he said.

Alison Shanabrook, Seminole Fire Rescue's public education and information officer, was there to help.

That help may have saved the lives of Harris' two children on Super Bowl Sunday.

Lee and his wife, Krista, and their two children Hayden, 4, and Elliott, 2, were heading to a Valentine's party when a driver ran a red light and struck their Toyota Sienna van, which was traveling west on 38th Avenue N.

The force of the crash caused the van to flip and travel nearly half a block on its roof before coming to a stop, all four family members dangling upside down from their seats.

"We slid from 38th and 52nd to 53rd," Harris said. No one was injured.

"Krista crawled out through her window. I unbuckled myself and dropped down and crawled on my back to get to the kids," he said.

Witnesses stopped to help Harris, who released the children from their Graco car seats and passed them through the shattered windows to safety.

"I could tell by the looks on the faces of the rescue workers that they were stunned to see that no one was hurt," Harris said.

A few weeks later, the Harris family dropped by the fire station to show Shanabrook photos from the accident and thank her for providing the car seat training.

"I was stunned looking at the pictures. Then I called everybody in the Safe Kids Coalition and said 'Hey! I've got a good-news story!' " said Shanabrook, who estimates that in the past five years she has inspected nearly 400 car seats.

"This is just a prime example of why we provide this free service to the community," she said.

The family has a new Toyota van, and they've replaced the children's car seats. It's important not to reuse car seats that have been through an accident, said Shanabrook, noting that most insurance companies will pay for replacement seats.

"The seats may look unharmed structurally, but you never want to take the chance that some damage occurred that you can't see. Get a new car seat, always," she said.

Fast Facts:


Car seat specialist

To locate a certified car seat specialist in Pinellas County, call 582-KIDS (5437). Parents also can visit the Safe Kids Web site at

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 20:46:31]

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