February 22, 2018

I Watched My Daughter Being Strangled To Death

strangled by seat beltBy Sally Clark

Normally I use this space (Sally’s photography blog) to share artwork of happy families. Today I’m using it to send a message. I’ve been writing this blog post in my head since last Friday. Composing and re-composing … re-living the horror of an experience no parent and no child should ever have to go through. I am putting down my thoughts in hopes that it will prevent something like this from happening to anyone ever again.


Fridays are Mommy and Baylor time … the one special day of the week when my rapidly growing 5-year-old isn’t in preschool. Last Friday began with a beautiful breakfast at my other kids’ elementary school to commemorate the veterans in our community. After the breakfast ended I rushed Baylor out the door of the school to avoid being caught in the commotion of a planned fire drill. I shuffled Baylor into the minivan while I chatted with my friend, Aimee, who had pulled out of the slot next to mine and rolled her window down to talk for a bit. I left the sliding door open as I always do, but closed it when another car parked next mine began to pull out. Despite three noisy leaf blowers blaring in the background, our conversation shifted to politics and we continued talking for about 10 minutes.


Baylor is not my quiet kid, so I was pleased to think that she was peacefully reading in the car and not opening and closing the door incessantly. As I stood about five feet from my car I felt confident that she was in a safe place. I was so wrong.


You know that little voice in the back of your head? Mine started quietly reminding me that Baylor would normally be climbing over the seats or running around the parking lot or climbing a tree or finding some other way to distract me from my conversation. I ignored that voice one time, but the second time I decided to step away from our conversation to peek at Baylor. What I saw changed my life forever. She was standing in the third row of seats facing the back window. I knew something was wrong because she wasn’t moving. My first thought at that horrible moment was that she was dead. I told Aimee something was very wrong and quickly opened the back hatch. Baylor had apparently been playing with the seatbelts and got two of them tangled up and wrapped around her neck. I could tell she had been screaming and crying and her face was bright red. She lifted her head when the hatch opened and her big brown eyes looked right at me. The one positive was that her feet were still touching the seat, which may have been enough to keep it from completely cutting off her breathing. I’ll never know how long she was like that … but it was too long.


The next part is a bit of a blur. Aimee and I tried to unwrap the seat belts from around her neck, but as we tried to loosen them they got tighter. Over and over again Aimee kept encouraging Baylor and I to stay calm as we worked to free her. I frantically scrambled to find a key or anything sharp to unhook the middle seat belt from its latch so we could unwind it from around her neck (I had dropped my keys during the initial frantic moments when I climbed in the hatch to try and get her out). When we realized we were not going to be able to unwrap the seat belts and as they continued to get tighter, Aimee ran to the school to grab a pair of scissors. Bless her heart, because she kept running toward the school even as I was screaming her name.


I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully put into words how horrible the next few moments were. I was watching my daughter being strangled to death. I was frantically trying to find my keys or any sharp object to release the middle seat belt from its anchor. Baylor was turning purple and it was clear the situation was deteriorating quickly. I finally grabbed the keys from Aimee’s ignition and reached over the back seat to unhook the middle seat belt. I felt a brief moment of relief as I expected that to release the pressure around her neck, but nothing happened. The seat belts were so tight at that point I couldn’t unthread the middle seat belt from around her neck … it just wouldn’t budge.


Just then Aimee handed me the scissors. At that point I was having visions of sawing through the belt while watching as Baylor slipped away. Fortunately the scissors were sharp enough and cut right through. The seat belt STILL didn’t release at that point, but we were able to untangle and loosen the belts and pull Baylor from the car. She was limp and bright red, but she was also breathing and looking at me.


A long day at Children’s Hospital revealed that Baylor suffered no internal damage to her neck. She is still mad about the IV she endured for her CT scan and essentially equates all her aches and pains to “The Shot.” Her eyes have lost a bit of their sparkle and she is a bit subdued … which is saying a lot for Baylor. We have a long road ahead of us to ensure there is no long-term emotional damage for either of us. There have been many hugs and snuggles. 


The hardest part for me is overcoming the guilt. Everyone tells me things like this can happen to anyone and that they happen so fast. Deep down I know that is true, but that doesn’t erase the images in my head. As parents we vow to always be there for our kids, so it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that if even for a second I wasn’t there when Baylor needed me.

I keep reminding myself that this situation was scary, but fortunately not tragic. For that I do feel blessed. Our angels were looking out for us.

Love your kids, hug your kids, pay attention and please keep a seat belt cutter or scissors somewhere in your car. I don’t want this to ever happen to anyone again.
By the way, pretty much every parent I tell immediately recalls the time when one of their kids was in a life or death situation. There is a reason we have to teach them not to stick forks in light sockets or run out in the street or put bags over their heads. It doesn’t matter how kids get into those situations, because they will. Over and over and over. It’s how we deal with those situations that truly matters.


We are working hard to put the twinkle back in her eyes …


Sally is a mother of three and owns her own photography business. Check out her blog at Sally Clark Photography


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  1. This breaks my heart. I’m so glad that she is OK. I felt a lot of the same feelings of guilt when my daughter broke her arm…twice. Not life threatening…but certainly made me wish it was me and that I had done something different to have changed the outcome. So, so happy that she is OK!!!!

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