LIHUE >> A 14-month-old toddler killed in a Kauai vehicle crash over the weekend was crushed by an air bag.
Michael Pagelsdorf Jr. was holding his daughter in his lap when the Nissan Pathfinder he was driving crashed into a PT Cruiser stopped in traffic ahead of it on Kumualii Highway on Sunday.
Kaylie Pagelsdorf was caught between her father’s weight and the deploying air bag.
“It crushed the little girl,” said Kauai Police Lt. Mark Scribner.
Scribner told The Garden Island newspaper the police won’t know the specifics until they are done with their full investigation. But he said investigators estimate Pagelsdorf was traveling 25 miles per hour at the time of the accident. The Pathfinder was only moderately damaged.
“If she was in a child seat, she would not have been harmed,” said Scribner, who is the police department’s Traffic Safety Unit commander.
He said children under 12 years old should never sit in front of an air bag because they deploy fast. Children’s bones aren’t fully developed and can’t withstand the force.
Police arrested Pagelsdorf Sunday for manslaughter but released him pending an investigation.
Scribner said police may boost their child safety seat enforcement after the accident. He said he is dedicated to getting the word out about child safety and hopes parents will learn something from the Pagelsdorf tragedy.
Kauai police handed out 134 citations in 2010 for failure to use child safety restraints.
Chuck Hirata, a child passenger safety instructor for the Maui Police Department and the Keiki Injury Prevention Coalition, said the crash is likely the state’s first air bag-related child fatality
“That’s the kind of thing I’ve been working all these years to try to prevent,” said Hirata, a retired Maui Police Department captain who has been offering child safety seat checks on the Valley Isle since the mid-1990s.
Hirata said he’s heard lots of excuses as to why parents haven’t properly restrained their children: they aren’t going fast, it’s a short distance, car seats are hard to use.
“The big problem is people don’t realize what crash forces are involved,” Hirata said.