Hoosier grandfather fights for stronger child seat laws

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Two months after the tragic death of his granddaughter, an Indiana man is fighting for tougher sentencing provisions for people who don’t properly restrain children in their car seats.

James Wallace’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Heavenlee-Angel Johns, was critically injured in a crash near Terre Haute in December, 2009. She died from complications last year. She was eight years old.

Her grandfather said her injuries were painful, the result of not being properly restrained in a car seat.

“Her head came down between her knees, crushed her spinal cord and caused paralysis,” Wallace said. “And the driver of the car, who was responsible for her, only got a $25 fine.”

Wallace wants to change that. Since the accident, he’s been begging state legislators to change the law so sentences are more severe, forcing parents to get the message.

“I made a promise to her on Christmas Day after the accident that I would see that we get some justice for her,” Wallace said. “And three years later, I have yet to see anything.”

“I think that’s one reason we want to pass this law, to send a message,” said State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute.

Kersey is the author of House Bill 1095, which makes it a felony if your child is injured or killed in accident when they are not properly restrained.

“I think a $25 fine for not doing that is just not enough, if it results in a child being hurt, or death,” Kersey said.

But every year he’s filed the bill, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

“This is one of those things where you just keep trying,” Kersey said.

“I would never want to see anybody go through that again, especially when the driver was literally given a $25 fine, and told, ‘You’re a bad driver, don’t do that again,’” Wallace said. “Meanwhile, Heavenlee lies in the ground.”

The head of the Roads & Transportation Committee tells Fox59 that his committee won’t consider the bill this year. He thinks it could be an issue for the judiciary committee instead, as lawmakers continue to look at the possibility of revising the entire criminal code.

“Our anger is at our legislators, now knowing there’s a loophole in the law, they have decided it’s more important to focus on things like cursive writing in school,” Wallace said. “If it takes another decade, so be it. Our goal is to make sure that drivers are held accountable.”

“This is one of those things where you just keep trying,” Kersey said.

“I would never want to see anybody go through that again, especially when the driver was literally given a $25 fine, and told, ‘You’re a bad driver, don’t do that again,’” Campbell said. “Meanwhile, Heavenlee lies in the ground.”

The head of the Roads & Transportation Committee tells Fox59 that his committee won’t consider the bill this year. He thinks it could be an issue for the judiciary committee instead, as lawmakers continue to look at the possibility of revising the entire criminal code.

“Our anger is at our legislators, now knowing there’s a loophole in the law, they have decided it’s more important to focus on things like cursive writing in school,” Campbell said. “If it takes another decade, so be it. Our goal is to make sure that drivers are held accountable.”

Wallace has set up a blog, detailing his family’s journey.

You can also see how Indiana’s laws and fines compare to other states.

8 comments

  • Mealie-Bug

    What a poorly written story. Was the child in a restraint or not? If she was not properly restrained, but the attempt was made, how is there malicious intent to warrant a felony? I'm baffled that there are repetitious quotes — one attributed to Wallace and one to Campbell.

  • Chuck

    As horrible as this situation is accidents do happen and children die restrained or not, the answer is not to compound this by ruining another life out of anger and the need to place blame. The answer is better education and driver awareness . Ruining the life of the driver with jail time will not bring back that baby.

    • Nancy

      Children cannot protect themselves they rely on us the adults to protect them. It should be neglect if a child is not properly restrained. The article clearly states she was in a car seat but not properly. If parents/caregivers take this more seriously and make sure the straps are tight and located where they should be, etc it could save lives and injuries. It is neglect if they do not take the time to do this.

  • James C. Wallace II

    In reality, Heavenlee was restrained ONLY by a lap belt, (no car seat in the car) thus causing the injuries that eventually resulted in her death. Our goal is to provide a deterrent so that the life of another child will not be lost due to neglect. Not securing a child in a proper car seat is neglect, pure and simple. As a society, we punish those who neglect children, resulting in injury or death with jail time. Why is the automobile exempt from similar laws? Many of you may ask "why ruin the life of the driver with jail time?" and we ask "is the life of that child worth so little to you that you won't even consider jail time for neglect?" What if it were your child and the driver, say a babysitter for example, failed to secure your child and that child died as a result of injuries directly related to the lack of restraint. Would you be so forgiving? Wouldn't you want justice? Would you do anything in your power to prevent this from happening to another? Remember, our children count on us to protect them, not make excuses when we fail them!

  • kris

    OMG! I have been in a hurry and switched cars and not put the car seat in for my 4 year old i just strapped her in the seat . NEVER AGAIN! Thank you James for your story, I will never do this again. And I am so sorry for the loss of that sweet child god bless

  • Betina Williams

    Just so everybody knows James IS NOT THE CHILDS GRANDFATHER. HE IS NOT RELATED TO HER AT ALL. HE HAS NOT RIGHT RUNNING HIS MOUTH. JUST THINK ABOUT HOW THE DRIVER FEELS. IF IT WAS YOU DON’T YOU THINK WHAT YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH EVERYDAY IS WORSE THAN GOING TO JAIL. THAN YOU HAVE THIS GUY STARTING ALL THIS TROUBLE. SOME PEOPLE NEEDS TO GROW UP.

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