CORYDON — Two-year-old Jackson rode to the county courthouse in a car seat that was, unbeknown to his mother, unsafe. When they got there volunteers threw away his old seat, measured his height, pulled a brand new car seat out of a box and installed it in his mom’s car. He climbed in and tried it out — too small. They pulled another new car seat, one with a five-point harness, and just like Goldilocks, the third one was just right.
Jackson is one of many children in Harrison County who are traveling safer now thanks to a program that allows families to get a free car seat, sized right and properly installed.
The idea, and funding, for the outreach came from a seemingly unlikely place: Harrison County Prosecutor Otto Schalk.
“As a prosecutor, you deal with all kinds of evil in the world,” he said. “At a certain point you grow callous to it but every time you look at a photo of a child thats been severely injured or deceased as a result of a car accident, knowing it could have been prevented, that’s what led me to do this.”
The funding for the program, $5,000 this year, comes from money seized in drug busts. Schalk says it’s a way for everyone to benefit from the forfeited money, not just law enforcement.
The money went to 100 car seats this year and on Saturday, parents and guardians in their cars lined up in a parking lot outside the Harrison County Superior Court to get an upgrade and lesson in car seat safety.
Cynthia Brown spent her day with a tape measure, checking the height of toddlers and making sure their new car seat was the perfect size for them and installed just so. Brown’s duties as a chairperson for Safe Kids Harrison County, a coalition that does similar work in the county, made her an expert volunteer.
According to Brown, the most important thing parents should look at when considering a car seat is the height and weight requirements. Those requirements can be found on the outside of the box and on the seat itself. According to Brown, until a child is 4-foot, 9-inches and 100 pounds, they need to be in some type of seat.
One thing not to consider when making a decision: unnecessary accessories. “It doesn’t always need to be bells and whistles because we’ve got different [car] sizes,” Brown said. “If you’ve got a small car you don’t want all the bells and whistles because it won’t fit. That doesn’t mean they aren’t gonna be as safe, all the seats are tested the same.”
The difference a properly-sized car seat installed correctly makes can be life or death, paramedic supervisor for EMS Shelton O’ Bannon said, and it’s all because of anatomy.
“Because of kids’ anatomical features they are very prone to head injuries,” he said. “Having a properly installed car seat for the weight is very important to reduce not only head injuries but all anatomical injuries of a child. Just because of a child’s weight, they do … bleed out very quickly when injured. The better they are secured in that vehicle, the more protection they have.”
There are even cases when not properly buckling in a child can lead to an indictment, Schalk said.
“Certainly if your children aren’t properly restrained and you’re in a motor vehicle accident, it could rise to [prosecution.] There are a lot of factors, but neglecting a dependent becomes part of the conversation,” Schalk said. “Anything we can do to make sure that children are being transported safely and securely, we are going to take every step we can.
"Most people think prosecutors only put people in jail and prison. That’s only a part of what we do. I think being a prosecutor means making sure that your county is safe, making sure people are productive members of the community.”
This is the second time Schalk has passed out car seats and based on the response, he anticipates he’ll be doing it again. One hundred seems to be the optimal number to hand out at one time he said, but making the process “more efficient” and doing it more often are on his mind.