NEW HAVEN — Shelley Lowe shared the pain of losing her son, J.R., just before he turned 2
Jose Ricardo “J.R.” Thomas Horton, Lowe’s son, died Sept. 28 after being struck by a falling television when a piece of furniture tipped over.
With tears in her eyes and pain in her voice, Lowe described her son, a boy with dimples and bright eyes that would light up a room and fill hearts with love.
“I held my son until the ambulance came and took him from me, not knowing that would be the last time I would hold him alive,” said Lowe. “As he slipped away, and hearing the words ‘he’s gone,’ I held my son for hours... not wanting to let him go, thinking it was all a bad dream.”
She spoke Thursday at City Hall as she and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., advocated for a stronger, mandatory stability standard for furniture
Blumenthal has introduced the Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth, or Sturdy, Act, which would mandate safety standards for furniture manufacturers, instead of leaving the institution of such standards up to the company.
He said there is a need to improve safety, noting a child is injured by a piece of furniture tipping over every 17 minutes in the United States.
“The solutions here are not high-tech; they’re not tremendously innovative. They simply involve building furniture so it is back-weighted, and therefore more difficult to tip over. A child who weighs 60 pounds should not be able to turn over a piece of furniture — a clothing storage dresser or cabinet — as happens, literally, every 17 minutes in this country,” said Blumenthal. “It is preventable, it is tragic, and it is completely reprehensible that the furniture industry has not imposed on itself stronger standards.”
The day she lost her son has haunted her, Lowe said. She has spent each day thinking about what she could have done differently; the pain has not faded.
“I grieve for my son every day — and it only gets harder. But if J.R. and I can save one child’s life, and a mother not to have to suffer the loss of her child, by raising awareness for what can be done to prevent a tip-over, I will do everything in my power,” said Lowe.
Blumenthal noted Lowe’s courage in stepping forward to share her story, saying it should serve as an example for his colleagues in the Senate.
“For any parent, this is a worst nightmare — and it could happen to anyone, because there are no warnings, no safety standards mandated for this industry,” said Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said his bill would direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt the stronger, mandatory stability standard for household furniture, unless the industry standard were significantly strengthened by the commission.
Doug Clark, the government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association, which serves retailers across North America, said its members are very concerned about safety. While many manufacturers comply with voluntary safety standards, the association has asked the CPSC for a mandatory safety standard, for clothing storage furniture, which would bring “more clarity.” He said the CPSC and congressional support have made safety a top priority.
“We strongly support safety standards for dressers, and chest of drawers and these kinds of furnishings,” Clark said. “This is a very serious issue.”
Clark said there have been innovative safety improvements by manufacturers, such as chests for which only one drawer at a time will open, and in anti-tip restraint devices for furniture.
Blumenthal said furniture or heavy items on top of them caused at least 363 deaths between 2000 and 2011 from children being trapped or crushed, and that 82 percent of victims were younger than 8 years old. The CPSC has found clothing storage units such as bureaus and dressers to be a higher risk for tip-overs, since open drawers can cause furniture to become top-heavy, and children often climb on these items without supervision.