Mariah Sandoval died in July after a cord from window blinds became tangled… (Caitlin Sandoval )
Caitlin Sandoval was playing last month with her two young daughters on a futon in her San Jacinto apartment. She left them for just a moment to go to the bathroom.
What happened next was every parent's worst nightmare.
"I returned to the room and saw my youngest daughter at the window with her arms limp at her sides," Sandoval, 24, recalled. "Then I saw the cord around her neck."
The 14-month-old child was soon pronounced dead at the hospital. Cause of death: accidental strangulation.
Sandoval's little girl was one of about a dozen kids who die each year in accidents involving window blinds, including those that are advertised by manufacturers as having special safety features. At least 33 kids were reported injured in cord-related accidents last year.
It's a problem the window-blind industry has been aware of for years yet has been remarkably slow to address. Voluntary new safety standards are expected to be introduced by manufacturers this fall.
But critics say not enough is being done to protect children or inform the public of potential dangers.
"People are being misled," said Linda Kaiser, founder of the advocacy group Parents for Window Blind Safety. "People are being led to believe that these safety devices will work. They don't understand that kids can still die."
Kaiser, 39, lost her 1-year-old daughter in 2002 after the child managed to get her head inside a loop formed by a window-blind cord.
The problem typically isn't the operational cord, which is the one used to raise and lower blinds. Most parents know how dangerous these can be for little ones and take preventive measures, such as tethering the cord out of reach.
The problem often is with what's known as the inner cord -- the string that runs through the slats of a Venetian blind, say, or that rolls up a shade. Even when the operational cord is secured, a kid can still pull out a portion of the inner cord and form a loop.
"People don't know how easily a freak accident can occur," Kaiser said.
I certainly didn't. Dangling operational cords were on my radar screen from the moment my wife and I returned home from the hospital with our baby 11 years ago. But the danger of inner cords never occurred to me until I spoke with Sandoval and Kaiser.
I also had no idea how easily a kid could form a noose with an inner cord until I saw some of the videos on the YouTube channel of Parents for Window Blind Safety.
What's particularly frustrating about this problem is that it's not new. Experts -- and window-blind makers -- have known about it for years.
A 1997 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that operational and inner cords "represent a substantial strangulation hazard compared with other potentially harmful household products."
It concluded that "product design modifications and parental education will be necessary to avert this type of fatal home injury."
So here we are, 15 years after that study was released, and what's been done? Not much.
"This is an industry that's really resistant to change," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America. "They've been reluctant to address these problems in a meaningful way."
Not so, countered the Window Covering Manufacturers Assn., an industry group. It says blind makers have been working with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish new standards for their goods.
The organization also says it's working to get the word out that families with young children should replace all conventional blinds with newer cordless models, which can cost up to three times as much as standard models.
"There is no universal technological fix that exists today that would cover the wide variety of custom-made, made-to-measure and stock types of window coverings and their users, and allow consumers to purchase blinds at a cost comparable to current products," said Ralph Vasami, executive director of the association.
He said it's not economically feasible to expect all households to replace older blinds with more up-to-date models. If regulators were to require costlier cordless blinds, Vasami said, it would increase the likelihood that many families would keep older (and more dangerous) shades in their home.
Weintraub at the consumer federation dismissed that worry. She said families would willingly reduce threats to their kids as long as safer products were priced fairly.
"Right now, the manufacturers overcharge for cordless models," Weintraub said. "They know they can get away with a big premium, so they set their prices accordingly."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been content so far to allow the industry to adopt its own safety standards. It should instead flex its muscle and impose mandatory standards that include a transition to exclusively cordless products.
Sandoval, the San Jacinto mom, told me she hopes the industry learns from her sad experience and does the right thing by making the changeover.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought I would lose my child," she said. "I can only hope it never happens to anyone else."
If the status quo is maintained, though, at least one family somewhere in the country can expect to feel the sting of tragedy every month for the foreseeable future.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @LATlazarus. Send tips or feedback to david.lazarus@ latimes.com.