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Four-Year-Old Falls Out Of Car; Father Charged in Her Death

January 10, 1991

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) _ A father who watched his 4-year-old daughter fall from his car and get hit by a truck has been charged with causing her death by failing to buckle her seat belt.

Angelo Anthony Sergi was arraigned Wednesday and released pending a Jan. 17 preliminary hearing on charges that include homicide by motor vehicle and involuntary manslaughter.

The charges were believed to be the first in the state involving the death of a child not wearing a seat belt.

Police say Sergi made an illegal U-turn on Dec. 8 and his daughter, Theresa, fell out of the car through a faulty door. Sergi, 38, pulled over but couldn’t find her in the dark. A pickup hit the girl moments later, police said.

″Obviously, if she had been restrained she could not have rolled out of the vehicle and would not have been killed,″ prosecutor E. David Christine said.

Sergi, who lives in Tobyhanna, also faces charges of endangering the welfare of children, recklessly endangering another person and violating the motor vehicle code, including the seat-belt law.

Christine said Sergi faced up to five years in prison if convicted.

″This is a sad but perfect example of what happens when a parent doesn’t follow the law,″ Christine said.

Sergi has an unpublished telephone number and could not be reached for comment.

Similar cases have cropped up recently in other states.

In Florida, a father faces trial in the death of his 3-year-old daughter, who was sitting on her mother’s lap and was killed in an accident.

Last year, a California man was charged with manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old son, but the case was dropped after it drew publicity.

Christine said the Monroe County case is unique because the victim’s death occurred after she fell out of a car and not because she was in a car involved in an accident.

In the other cases, it could be argued that the children could have died even if they had been wearing seat belts.

″Let’s face it, if she were wearing a seat belt, she wouldn’t have died,″ Christine said. ″This is a much clearer case of what can happen when a child is not properly restrained.″

Lorrie Walker, coordinator of the state Traffic Injury Prevention Project, said she was glad to see enforcement of seat-belt laws.

″It’s very unfortunate that parents have to live with the guilt, but they’ve also broken the law,″ Walker said. ″I also think it’s sad that a 4- year-old does not have a life any more.″

Julie McGreevy, executive director of the Keystone Safety Belt Network in Harrisburg, said charging parents with serious crimes may be taking the issue too far.

McGreevy said her group is more concerned with educating drivers and preventing fatal accidents.

Update hourly