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Toddler killed by backing vehicle: a frequent tragedy

The Amherst toddler who died Tuesday when her mother backed a car over her was at least the 12th child in the country to be killed in April in such an incident, according to a group that tracks car-related child fatalities.

"This happens so frequently," said Janette E. Fennell, founder of Kansas-based Kids and Cars.

Calette McCrea, 18 months, somehow got out of her home and walked to the driveway as her mother, Cristin McCrea, 26, was backing her 2007 Chrysler 300 out of the garage, the mother told Amherst police.

As many as 50 children are hurt in back-over accidents every week nationwide -- with two suffering fatal injuries, Fennell said, and the numbers seem to be getting higher as parents choose larger and taller SUVs, vans and pickup trucks to drive.
McCrea told police that she had left her daughter inside the home for just a couple of minutes so that she could get the car out of the garage, giving her more space to maneuver Calette into her car seat.

Fennell said that scenario is tragically common.

"We call it the 'bye-bye syndrome,' " she said.

Young children, especially those just learning to walk, often dash outside when a parent leaves the home.

"They can get behind the car and they can see Mommy and they can see the car, but they certainly don't have the cognitive ability to understand that Mommy can't see them," Fennell said.

McCrea said she didn't know she had hit her daughter until she saw Calette lying in front of her on the driveway.

The little girl died less than four hours later from her injuries.

Amherst Assistant Police Chief John Askey said investigators are still looking into the incident, but there is no indication it was anything more than a "terrible accident."

Fennell became involved with nontraffic-related car accidents after she and her husband were kidnapped in 1996 and stuffed into the trunk of a car. They fought for new laws that ensured that all vehicles with trunks were equipped with glow-in-the-dark trunk releases.

Using the data-gathering skills she learned from that effort, Fennell decided to take on child and car safety issues.

Her group is now lobbying for legislation that would regulate how much a driver should be able to see out the back window of a car.

"People probably don't understand that there's no regulations whatsoever about what you should be able to see," she said. "What's happening now is that people are driving larger and larger cars and their blind zones have grown."

Legislation by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., are pending.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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