Window blind cords claim the life of a Hixson toddler, feds mull standards

One child is choked each month by window blind cords

photo Colton Shero died a year ago on Oct. 17, 2013 - two days before his second birthday - when he got caught in a window blind cord and was accidentally strangled.

WINDOW BLIND SAFETY TIPSThe best option is to replace traditional blinds with cordless blinds. If that's not possible, take these steps:• Check all the blinds in your home and ensure that no cords are accessible on the front, side or back of the product.• Do not place cribs, beds or furniture close to windows.• Make sure pull cords are adjusted to be as short as possible.• Keep the continuous-loop pull cords on roller shades or vertical blinds pulled tight and anchor the loop to the floor with a tension device.• Use "cord stops" to prevent the inner cord loops in blinds from being pulled out.• For a free repair kit, call 800-506-4636. The kits can help reduce some hazards, but do not address all hazards.Source: Consumer Product Safety CommissionSECONDS MATTERA child caught with a cord around his neck can pass out within 15 seconds and will die within two to three minutes.Source: Consumer Product Safety CommissionREPORT AN ACCIDENTIf you know of a child who has died in a window blind cord, call the Parents for Window Blind Safety at 314-494-7890.

photo Erin Shero speaks about her two-year-old son Colton (pictured) who died one year ago today after being caught in the cord on her window blinds. In the year since, Shero has grieved and become an advocate for window blind safety.

On a completely normal Thursday afternoon, Erin Shero was watching TV in the basement of her Hixson home with her two toddlers.

After a while, she decided to make the boys a snack and went upstairs. Her sons were watching the children's show "Bubble Guppies" and playing with trains when she left. Shero made a bag of popcorn and filled a couple of sippy cups. Then she went back down to the boys.

Total elapsed time -- less than five minutes.

She walked in and noticed that her youngest, Colton Shero, was slumped over next to the window. Shero thought he was asleep and reached down to pick him up.

"I put my hands around his little waist and when I did his little head rolled and I could see the cord," Shero said. "It was tight."

The cord from a window blind was cutting into his neck. Colton was not breathing and his lips were blue. Shero called 911 and started CPR. She tilted his head back to do compressions and could see a long, ugly mark under his chin left by the cord.

Hysterical, she grabbed Colton and ran out of her house, screaming for help.

photo Erin Shero becomes emotional while speaking about her 2-year-old son Colton, in pictured at left, who died one year ago after being caught in the cord on her window blinds. In the year since, Shero has grieved and become an advocate for window blind safety.

But no one could save Colton. He died a year ago today -- on Oct. 17, 2013 -- two days before his second birthday.

His death dropped Shero into the deepest grief and launched her on a search for answers. She spent hours researching window cord safety and discovered that many children die in window blind cords every year.

"If you have young children, it's like having a loaded gun lying in their room," Shero said. "It's a helpless death. It's quiet. There's not a cry, there's nothing. It's completely silent. And it needs to stop."

photo Reece Elseroad died in his bedroom after he got caught in a window blind cord and accidentally strangled himself on February 17, 2014. Reece was a few days away from his fifth birthday.

Hundreds of children have died in window blind cords during the last 20 years. It's hard to say exactly how many accidents go unreported, but Parents for Window Blind Safety has recorded 362 deaths or injuries in window cords since 1996.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it saw 184 deaths and 100 injuries between 1996 and 2012 -- that's a rate of one death per month.

Sometimes kids climb on furniture or windowsills and get caught in the cords, said Kim Dulic, spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Other times, young children in cribs may pull the cords down and get caught. Even if parents tuck the dangling cords out of reach, some children have strangled in the cords that run through the middle of the blinds, not the pull cords.

In Colton's case, the evidence suggests that he climbed into the windowsill, pulled the cord down -- Shero kept it wrapped up -- and then jumped from the windowsill. He jumped into the cord, which closed around the front of his neck, catching him under the chin.

A child caught in a cord can pass out within 15 seconds and die within two to three minutes, Dulic said. But while cordless window blinds are available on the market, Shero said not many people realize how deadly the corded blinds can be. Since the accident, she has pulled all the blinds out of her house and hopes that sharing Colton's story can help save other kids.

"I had no idea," she said. "I had to lose a child to learn this information. I had five kids, and no one ever told me. People need to know how prevalent this is."

On Oct. 8, the Consumer Product Safety Commission unanimously voted to start the long process of creating new standards and rules for window blinds that could require manufacturers to sell only cordless blinds or ensure that all cords are completely inaccessible.

The commissioners voted to develop the new standards after child safety advocates -- like the Parents for Window Blind Safety, where Shero now volunteers -- petitioned for the change last year.

Years down the road, corded window blinds may no longer be allowed on U.S. store shelves.

It's a move that's long overdue, said Carol Pollack-Nelson, a psychologist who specializes in consumer product safety. She said the rate of children dying in window blinds has been steady for years but the industry has not changed its designs to address the risk.

"Since 1983, the hazard pattern hasn't changed, the [number of] kids at risk hasn't changed, the grief of the parents hasn't changed and the industry has decided they're not changing either," she said. "It's very bad corporate behavior."

The industry has made some voluntary changes over the years, Dulic said, but nothing that completely eliminated cords or made cords inaccessible. Common safety options for blinds are prone to fail, she said, and the CPSC believes the status quo -- one child dead a month -- is unacceptable.

Not everyone agrees. The Window Covering Manufacturers Association came out adamantly against the proposed changes after last week's vote, arguing that the CPSC commissioners don't understand the technology they plan to regulate.

"The petition's proposal ... would only result in removing safe products from the market and cost thousands of jobs throughout the United States," Executive Director Ralph Vasami wrote.

He argued that the rule would raise costs and would cause consumers to hold on to old products longer, which he said would create a more unsafe environment because old products do not meet current safety standards.

That's an argument Shero rejects -- Colton died on a new window blind that was in compliance with current safety standards, she said. Still, she knows firsthand how people react with sarcasm and disbelief when she warns about blind safety.

"I hear comments like, 'What, are we going to start Parents Against Sliding Glass Doors next?'" she said. "These are our babies. These are our kids. Where is the outrage? No one should have to hold their child dead."

In February, four months to the day after Colton died, a similar scene played out in Cummings, Ga., about two hours south of Chattanooga. Heidi Elseroad and her four kids had been stuck in the house for almost a week because of snow days.

She put the kids in their rooms for an hour of quiet time after lunch -- they could play or nap, she didn't care which. But when she went to check on 4-year-old Reece, he had locked the door and didn't answer her calls.

"I finally got it open and right in front of me was my little boy hanging from the window blind cords," Heidi said. "I tried CPR. But I think I already knew. He was cold."

Reece died just a few days shy of his fifth birthday. Elseroad thinks he was playing with a toy airplane and climbed onto a nightstand next to the window. She thinks he might have gotten the airplane stuck in the cord, then lost his balance.

"Just a little slip," she said. "He must have hit it just the perfect way that it spun around and latched on."

And just like that, Reece -- the little boy who prayed for chocolate milk every night, the boy who neighbors called "the little mayor," who had just hit the basketball rim for the first time -- was gone.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or at with tips or story ideas.