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Child Dies When Her Coat Catches in Escalator

January 28, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transit authorities say they are examining safety precautions on the Washington, D.C., subway system following the death of a three-year-old girl on an escalator.

The girl, on a shopping trip with her identical twin sister a day before their third birthday, choked to death Saturday when she fell down the moving stairs and the nylon strings to her parka caught in the treads at the bottom of the escalator. The children were with their grandmother at the time.

″This is such a freak accident,″ said Theodore Weigle, deputy general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. ″When you consider the hundreds of thousands of people who use the escalators every day without incident - we’ll have to be very deliberate and cautious about what we do to further improve their safety.″

Weigle said that a station attendant turned the escalator off in ″probably a matter of seconds, or a minute″ after he first heard screams. But it took firefighters 20 minutes to free the child because she was so tightly pinned, Weigle said.

According to Metro police, the girl’s coat ties became snagged in the treads at the bottom of the escalator, pulling her down. The girl, Melissa Gilbert of Washington, died of asphyxiation, the medical examiner’s office said.

The grandmother, Elizabeth Truesdale, was taking the children downtown to buy roller skates for their birthday.

Ronald Boice of the Westinghouse Elevator Co., which built the system’s escalators, said it was the first death on an escalator that he had heard of in his 20 years with the company.

Metro officials said they have tried to make the escalators safer in the past, slowing them down and adding warning signs at the new stations, but that they had never had so serious an accident.

″We’ve had injuries,″ said David Cooksey, director of facilities and maintenance for Metro. ″We have had people get articles of clothing stuck in escalators before. We’ve had sprains and strains.″

There are emergency buttons under the base of the escalators, but Metro spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus said that and other ways of stopping the moving stairs are not made public because of the danger of sudden starting and stopping of the escalators.

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