Freak Accident

Yeadon, PA toddler killed in freak accident at Philadelphia Rita’s Water Ice

A freak accident caused a festive fundraiser to turn terribly tragic.  Over the weekend Philadelphia police identified the three-year-old girl who was killed in a freak accident at Rita’s Water Ice on Saturday as Wynter Larkin.  The young child passed away after a security gate at Rita’s Water Ice in north Philadelphia came crashing down on her while she waited in line for ice cream.

Wynter Larkin, of Yeadon, PA, was standing outside a Rita’s location at 2829 Girard Ave. in Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood before the freak accident occurred.  At 4:00 p.m. a security gate came crashing down on her.

Friends say 3-year-old Wynter was with her mother Cheryl at an annual fundraiser at Rita’s for the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.  The gate, which weighs approximately 2,000 ponds, fell and crushed the toddler.  More than 20 men rushed to life the gate and hold it in the air to free the toddler.

“The gentleman from Omega Psi Phi were holding the awning up and the little girl was on the ground and they were trying to resuscitate her,” said witness Kealy Dangerfield Enlow.

“When they finally got it up off of her, she was just lying there, lifeless.” said witness Tracey Stanford.

Alison Brady was across the street and a witness to the freak accident.  She was very shaken up about the tragic event.  Brady told the Philadelphia Inquirer that stucco work had recently been done on the shop.  “It was more than a thud. It was a big bang, some people thought it was a gunshot.  It was almost like slow motion.  The gate was falling and people were screaming and it hit the ground and the little girl was there.” said Brady.

Another witness to the freak accident at Rita’s said “We saw the awning laying on the ground but didn’t realize there was a baby under the awning until the mother started screaming.”

Photos from the scene shows the black metal gate lying on the sidewalk, pink balloons still tied to it in front of the shop’s red and white striped awning.  Several popped balloons appear trapped underneath the gate, which businesses typically roll down after hour to prevent crime.

An ambulance rushed the toddler to Hahnemann University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 5:02 p.m.  Officials with Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspections arrived on the scene of the deadly freak accident and shut down the Rita’s. Officials were immediately investigating the accident.

Police Inspector Christine Coulter said the investigation was broadening to all other buildings on the block and, in particular, their security grates. But at this point, Coulter said, the incident appears to be “a horrible tragedy.”

Rita’s Italian Ice, the shop’s parent company, released a statement about the crash.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the child’s family,” said Linda Duke, Rita’s spokeswoman. “Due to the current investigation we really cannot comment about the unfortunate incident.”

From a legal standpoint, the central issue of this potential case is:

What is a business owner’s duty to children visiting a store of restaurant?

In most states, including Pennsylvania, there is a duty of reasonable care and inspection.  If a business owner knows about a dangerous condition then the business owner should take efforts to repair the condition.  At the very least the business owner must post signage that alerts patrons of the potential risks of a hazardous area.

When determining what went wrong in a potential personal injury case like the Rita’s Water Ice incident that occurred on Saturday, lawyer and investigators need to determine who was responsible for the injury.  There can be several people responsible for an injury.  Business operators, property owners, employees of property owner and / or business owner, parent company- franchisor, construction contractor, manufacturer and distributor, those responsible for instillation and maintenance, etc. are generally considered potentially liable.

Carlton Williams, commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said in an emailed statement that there were no open violations at the store and no reported problems with its security gate.

“The Department of Licenses and Inspections will only inspect these gates upon report of a complaint of an apparent defect,” Williams said, noting that property owners are responsible for their maintenance, care and inspection.

Property records list P&G Development as the owner. Attempts to reach P&G were unsuccessful. Officials of Licenses and Inspections state that there are no open violations and there is no violation history related to the gate.


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