Lynn Oliver says her 5-year-old grandson may have been killed by something designed to save lives: the air bags in her 1994 Camaro Z-28.
Oliver contends that when her slow-moving car bumped into a concrete planter in a North Salt Lake parking lot this past Tuesday, the nylon bags burst out of the dashboard.Jordan West's head was wrenched and his neck broken as the bags inflated, Oliver said.
"From the sound of it, I thought a car had hit me," she recalled on Friday. "When the smoke (from the bags' pressurized canisters) filled the car, I thought someone bombed me."
The woman, 41, hurried out of the car and opened the passenger door. She unbuckled the boy's seat belt and pulled out his limp body.
"I could tell by his eyes and his face, he wasn't breathing," she said. "I was screaming for someone to help me, but people were looking out the windows like they were trying to figure out what I was doing. It didn't look like I was in an accident."
She carried the child into a nearby restaurant where another woman administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
The boy was rushed by air ambulance to Primary Children's Medical Center Tuesday night. He was pronounced dead Wednesday at 10:15 a.m., a hospital spokeswoman said.
North Salt Lake police officer John Herndon would not comment about the cause of death and declined to release results of an autopsy.
However, Jeffrey Augenstein, a trauma surgeon at the University of Miami-Jackson Memorial Medical Center, said he never has documented an accident in which an air bag caused a death. He is conducting a study of the causes of automobile injuries for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"In my studies, I have not seen any situation where a person was wearing his seat belt and an air bag and there was a serious injury to the occupant," he said.
The only cases in which an air-bag deployment led to a death were when the victim did not wear a seat belt, he said. John Dame, assistant director of the Utah Highway Safety Division, has heard of only one or two cases in which air bags caused an injury.
Meantime, the boy's grandfather, Mark Oliver, has contacted an attorney.