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Community meets in wake of playground accident

on September 8, 2011

“I jumped off like this,” five-year-old Jamonte shouted, bounding off the slide where just a week ago he nearly strangled and died.

The Barrett Terrace Apartment community gathered with firemen, police and building security officers Wednesday to talk about Jamonte’s accident and learn about playground safety. A week earlier, Jamonte was playing on the apartment play structure when he wrapped a purple jump rope around his own neck, tied it to a bar above the slide and tried to land on the ground below.

Playground at Barrett Terrace Apartments

The jump rope around Jamonte's neck was attached to the single bar just above the slide entrance. (Photo by Lexi Pandell)

His neighbor, 10-year-old Ruby, was the first to react, holding Jamonte up as he dangled to relieve the pressure on his neck. Police estimate that Jamonte was hanging for at least a couple of minutes before neighbors rushed out with a knife to cut the rope.

Building security officers Antonio Wise and his partner Francisco De La Cruz saw the accident unfold on a security monitor and rushed outside. They administered various types of compression to the unconscious boy’s chest and feet. According to Wise, Jamonte had a quarter-inch indentation on his neck from the pressure of the rope.

Finally, Jamonte started breathing.

“You know, when you see a dying person on TV and they hear voices and snap back?” Wise said. “I think it was like that.”

Officer Luis Padilla from the Richmond Fire Dept. was part of the responding team. He said that as he ran from his vehicle to Jamonte’s side, everything felt like it was in slow motion.

“The worst calls that we go on are children,” he said. “When I got there, he had just opened his eyes … We got very lucky. I got very lucky.”

More than 200,000 children are admitted to emergency rooms every year for playground-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The leading cause of playground death is strangulation.

Wise said this is the first child-related accident he has seen in his four months working at the complex.

While his family and neighbors were inside learning about child safety, Jamonte was once again running and playing outside with the other kids, and even performing back-flips atop the play structure that nearly killed him. The only mark from last week is the now-healing scar running between Jamonte’s neck and chin, which he insists doesn’t hurt anymore.

Padilla said Jamonte was saved by the quick-thinking action of his neighbors and that the accident could have quickly turned into a tragedy. Residents hope the proper precautions will help prevent another playground accident.

At the meeting, community members were given hand-outs about playground safety issues, such as child supervision, before splitting into small groups for counseling from Police Dept. chaplains.

“That is your play structure,” Padilla said, urging members to periodically check the structure for safety. “Take ownership of it.”

Building Manager and resident Juana Nunley helped coordinate the event. Nunley said she hopes to give community members and their children the opportunity to speak with trauma counselors about this and other incidents, such as shootings, in the near future.

“We have to make sure our kids are not the product of their environment and that they are better off,” she said.

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