Honda Motor Co. is working with federal and local authorities in probing the accidental death of a Cincinnati teen who suffocated after becoming pinned by a bench seat in his Odyssey minivan April 10.
Kyle Plush, 16, was initially well enough to call 911 after he became stuck in the third-row bench seats of the 2004 Honda minivan. He warned the emergency dispatcher that he felt he would die unless someone found him soon.
Kyle had kneeled on the third-row seat so he could reach into the very back of the vehicle to retrieve his tennis gear. The bench seat apparently collapsed into its storage position while Kyle was slumped over them grabbing his gear.
In his first 911 call just after 3:15 p.m., Kyle told the operator that he was pinned inside the Honda Odyssey and “in desperate need of help,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. “I’m trapped inside my gold Honda Odyssey van. In the … parking lot of Seven Hills Hillsdale … Send officers immediately I’m almost dead,” Kyle said. Police officers were dispatched to the scene but couldn’t locate him.
In a second call to 911, Kyle offered more details about the location of his van adding: “I probably don’t have much time left. Tell my mom I love her if I die. This is not a joke.” At some point in the 911 call, Kyle said “I can’t hear you … I need help, I’m gonna die here.”
Kyle’s lifeless body was found by family members later in the day. A preliminary autopsy report says his death was caused by asphyxia due to chest compression.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the 911 operator never passed information from Kyle’s second call to police. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac told the press that something had gone “terribly wrong” in the 911 communications and that the incident is under investigation.
The operator who took Kyle’s calls has been placed on administrative leave but evidence suggests that the problem may not have been one of human error. The operator told investigators that she had trouble hearing Kyle in his second call, prompting her to send him a code that would display as a text message on devices used by the hearing-impaired. She also called him twice after the problematic call but received no response. The operator also said her computer froze during the second call.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that Honda has never issued a safety recall for the possibility of the third-row seats unfolding a trapping a vehicle occupant. It’s uncertain whether Kyle’s death will prompt further action by Honda or U.S. regulators.