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A reminder about the need for safety seats

Special to The Times

Anyone who doubts the importance of taking the time to properly restrain their children in car safety seats or with seat belts must hear Samantha Babcock’s story.

On July 6, 2002, Babcock’s 2-year-old daughter, Ysabel, was fatally injured and her son, Daniel, 7, was seriously hurt in a freeway accident near Barstow. Neither child was in a safety seat or properly belted when the Nissan Frontier pick-up truck in which they were riding hit a guardrail and flipped over several times.

Ysabel and her brother were thrown from the truck and fell 50 feet to a street below, the California Highway Patrol report said. “It was a horrible accident,” said Anne DaVigo, CHP spokeswoman.

Ysabel died two days later from massive head injuries. Daniel survived the crash, but has trouble with motor skills while using his left arm and hand, as well as emotional difficulties, according to his mother. The driver of the Nissan truck, Anthony Kent Miller of Long Beach, and Babcock, 27, who lives in Covina, also were injured in the crash.

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“I was the only one conscious after the accident. I remember everything,” said Babcock. “The only thing I could think about was finding my kids.”

Despite having suffered multiple fractures, including a broken leg, Babcock said she managed to get up and search desperately for the children. “I was jumping in the middle of the road screaming for someone to stop and help me find my babies,” she said. Finally, a truck driver stopped and emergency crews arrived and located the children.

“I once thought ‘the buckle-up laws’ were just an inconvenience,” Babcock said. Most of the time she put her daughter in a car safety seat, but sometimes she didn’t have the seat with her or there weren’t enough safety belts to restrain her children.

Babcock pleaded no contest to child endangerment in November and was placed on four years’ probation, said Gary Roth, San Bernardino County’s supervising deputy district attorney.

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San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Thomas Glasser also ordered Babcock to talk to parents at at least 25 seat-belt safety classes about the accident and the tragic consequences of not properly restraining her children, or perform 200 hours of community service.

“I’ve been telling this story over and over again and I still can’t believe what happened,” she said.

Miller pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter and was placed on three years’ summary probation and also was ordered to speak at seat-belt safety classes, Roth said.

Babcock is scheduled to talk about her experience April 5 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The museum will be the site of free safety seat inspections to determine whether children are being properly restrained and equipment has been installed correctly, said Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., a nonprofit organization in Altadena.

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California law requires children to ride in a safety seat or booster until they are age 6 or weigh 60 pounds. “Most children, however, need to use a safety booster seat until at least age 8 to lift them up so the shoulder and lap belts are in the proper position,” Tombrello said.

Although there is a generally high rate of compliance with the California safety seat law, safety advocates are concerned that children remain at risk because many seats are not installed properly and some parents do not consistently buckle up their children.

From 1995 to 2000, some 253 children under the age of 4 were killed in vehicle accidents in California, the CHP said.

For information on child safety seat laws and how to properly use and install seats, parents can contact www.ca rseat.org.

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On another note, here’s a follow-up to a recent column on radar and laser jammers -- devices that are supposed to block police radar and laser guns so drivers can escape speeding tickets.

Although recent lab tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., found that two popular jammers marketed by Rocky Mountain Radar were ineffective in blocking radar and laser, the study did find that there are some effective jamming devices being sold.

Another study by Speed Measurement Laboratories Inc., a Fort Worth company that trains police officers and tests automotive products, also has found some devices that can jam radar and laser guns.

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Carl Fors, president of the laboratory firm, said in recent tests that two out of eight radar jammers were effective in blocking police radar guns.

And he said six out of nine laser jammers tested by his company work with “varying degrees” of efficiency in neutralizing police laser guns. They are: K40 Electronics’ Laser DefuserPlus, Beltronics’ Laser Star, Escort’s Laser Shifter, Laser Blinder’s Laser Blinder device, Lidateck’s Echo and Global Marketing’s Laser Buster.

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Jeanne Wright responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: jeanrite@aol.com.

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