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Dad screws up, but kid is fine: Washer starts with toddler inside

By Tina Susman |

This much is certain: The parents of a toddler in Camden, N.J., have one clean kid. But police also want to be sure the child is healthy after the boy got stuck in a washing machine -- the result of a father's attempt at good-natured fun gone awry. 

Despite the undisputed idiocy of the move, which was captured on a video gone viral, there are no plans to arrest the parents. “Right now we just want to make sure the child is OK,” Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor’s office, told the Associated Press. “We don’t believe there was any criminal intent. It was more of an accident.”

“From speaking with the owners of the Laundromat, they said the child’s father came back and told them the child was fine and they took him to the hospital,” said Laughlin. “We just want to confirm that.”

The incident occurred May 11 at the Federal Laundromat and was captured by a surveillance camera, which shows the drama erupting in the midst of the mundane chore of doing the family laundry. After a curious toddler peers curiously through the glass door of one spinning washing machine, his father playfully picks him up and places him into the empty machine next to it, then closes the door. The mother, standing nearby, does not appear concerned.

But both parents leap into frantic action seconds later when the machine automatically starts tossing its live load. The parents' attempts to open the door and stop the cycle fail, because the doors automatically lock when the machines are in operation. Another customer in a red cap wanders over and watches as the parents continue tugging at the door. The mother loudly claps her hands to try to draw attention from Laundromat workers; the father jumps up and down in panic after it becomes clear that brute strength isn't enough to open the door.

At various times, each parent races to the other side of the business to get workers' help as the machine spins, the diaper of its occupant visible even from a camera filming through the whirring blades of a ceiling fan. About 90 seconds pass before the child is lifted, apparently unhurt, from the machine, by which time the mother's panic has morphed into anger -- presumably at the man for the prank gone bad. She bangs her hand in frustration on a nearby folding table after yelling something at her male companion as other customers hover around the machine.

The Laundromat's owner, Laurie Chhour, who posted the video on YouTube, told the local ABC affiliate, WPVI, that the machine's door locked automatically because the man already had put money into it when he put the child inside. "He was very scared and was like, 'Oh, I'm in trouble,' " Chhour said of the man.

The worker, Kong Eng, who had to open a back panel and cut the power to the washer to free the child, said the little boy seemed fine, and witnesses concurred. Chhour, meanwhile, appeared flummoxed as to how to prevent similar incidents.

"I was thinking of putting up a sign. It sounds ridiculous, but it protects me," Chhour said.

While this incident apparently had a happy ending, it appears the parents were lucky. Just last month, a 21-month-old boy living in Utah died after climbing into his family's top-loading washing machine.

[Updated 3:31 p.m., Saturday, May 26: The couple pictured in the video were not the child's parents, as the police later learned. The actual mother of the child learned of the incident later. This post contains the rest of the story.]

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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