On the very last leg of a drive home from Southaven earlier this month, Starkville resident Maneka Riley screeched to a halt in the middle of Highway 25. Her 2-year-old daughter, Malaysia, had fallen out of her vehicle and onto the highway.
“Next thing I know, my other daughter was screaming like, ‘Malaysia’s not in the car!’ and she was crying,” Riley said. “I look back and she wasn’t in the car. So I stopped real fast and I saw her just laying in the road.”
On June 6 at 12:09 p.m. E911 dispatched officers to Highway 25, north of Highway 182. Riley said when she reached where her daughter was on the road, she looked almost unconscious. Passersby stopped and offered assistance as Riley waited on the police.
“A lot of people were helping me … there was this lady that works with kids and she was helping me. I stayed on the phone with the police until they got there. There were a lot of people helping me, so that was a good thing,” she said.
While in the car, Malaysia had been in a booster seat and unbuckled herself. While Riley thought the rear child lock was activated on her vehicle doors, it was not.
Malaysia was taken to a hospital outside of the area and treated for her injuries. She suffered an abrasion on one of her feet and a small fracture on her skull that the doctors say will heal as she grows. Two weeks removed from the harrowing incident, Malaysia has only a neck brace to show for what happened.
“She bounced back fast. She’s back playing around but trying to take it easy because of her neck brace,” said Riley.
Sergeant Derrick Beckom, public information officer for Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop G, explained that while he has never responded to an incident where a child fell from the vehicle, they do see a lot of ejections after crashes.
According to Beckom, the best way to ensure your child is safe when traveling in the backseat of a vehicle is to remain vigilant and to be sure they are secured properly.
“Keep a check on them. Always check in your rearview mirror and look back there every so often to make sure that they are still buckled in,” he said. “I have stopped quite a few motorists and I get to the vehicle and notice that the child is not buckled in.”
Beckom also recommended delegating another passenger to keep eyes on the child also, when possible. Should you notice your child is not secured in their seat, Beckom says to pull over safely and fasten the child before continuing to drive.
“You have to focus on the roadway, but the last thing you want is to be in a crash and your child is not buckled in. Most fire departments, if you’re unsure on how to properly fasten your car seats in, will show you,” he said. “A lot of our highway patrol officers are familiar with how to properly fasten those car seats and so we’re always available to help.”
The American Automobile Association recommends rear-facing car seats from birth until age 2, or until the child reaches the seat’s upper weight limit, which should be about 35 pounds. Front facing car seats are recommended until children reach that seat’s weight limit which could be anywhere from 40 to 65 pounds. From then, children can ride in booster seats until they reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches and are between the ages of 8 and 12.
“When a child can sit with his or her back straight against the vehicle seat back cushion and knees bent over the seat edge without slouching, it is time to switch to an adult safety belt,” AAA says.
Riley credits her older daughter, who is 6, with alerting her and saving Malaysia’s life. She wants what happened to her and her daughters to serve as a reminder to other parents to always be as cautious as possible.
“This should be a special reminder to everyone who has kids: strap your kids down. Make sure they’re all the way strapped down and can’t get out of the seatbelt,” said Riley. “And make sure the safety lock is working. It’s scary — I’m going to be extra cautious now.”
The Starkville Police Department declined to comment as an investigation into this incident remains ongoing.