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Washing machine in Mission Viejo girl's death is scrutinized by federal safety agency

Kaylee Ishii, 4, died after being caught in a front-loading Kenmore 417 with an 'easy start' button. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission looks at the design.

February 06, 2009|Julie Cart

A federal consumer safety agency launched an investigation Thursday into this week's accidental death of an Orange County child caught in a washing machine.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said investigators will examine the front-loading washer to determine if the design poses a safety risk.

Although there have been three deaths since 2004 of young children in top-loading washing machines, the death Monday of 4-year-old Kaylee Ishii was the first involving front-loading machines, Wolfson said.

Orange County sheriff's investigators concluded that Kaylee climbed inside the machine at her Mission Viejo home and that her 15-month-old brother may have turned the appliance on. The girl tumbled in the washer for several minutes before being discovered by her mother.

The washing machine, a Kenmore 417, features an "easy start" button 20 inches from the floor. "Once the machine starts, it's difficult if not impossible to open the door," sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. He said Kaylee's death has been ruled an accident.

The federal investigation will not place blame or liability, Wolfson said, but will attempt to determine if a recall of the washing machine model is required. He said that in response to the deaths of children, manufacturers voluntarily upgraded standards for top-loading machines to prevent the agitator from churning when the lid is raised. Wolfson said the agency had recalled two washing machines in its history for unrelated reasons.

"Whenever there is a fatality of a child involving a consumer product, we seek to conduct an investigation," Wolfson said. "Whenever possible, we try to analyze and test the product."

Amormino said that sheriff's investigators surmised that the Ishii children were playing when the accident occurred. "It could have happened to anyone," he said.

Orange County officials are planning a presentation about the dangers that home appliances can pose to children.

"Years ago it was refrigerators," Amormino said. "The public needs to be educated about what can happen."

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julie.cart@latimes.com

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