Parents who lost daughter urge drivers to beware of children when backing up

May 23, 2023, 8:55 PM | Updated: May 24, 2023, 9:54 am

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Chad Petersen often says “a few seconds could have made a lifetime of difference for us.”

A few weeks before her third birthday, his daughter Natalie Petersen died after he accidentally ran over her while backing out of the driveway. This was almost nine years ago, in the fall of 2014.

Petersen said he wishes he would have rolled down the windows and turned off the radio.

“I didn’t see or know anything had happened until out of the corner of my eye I saw my wife slip and fall, trying to get my attention,” he said.

The family, from Ivins, was preparing for a trip to Disneyland and Petersen was moving a trailer out of the way. He said they had multiple cameras on the vehicle, backup sensors, and sonar, but his tailgate was up and his daughter was too close to be seen on the cameras.

He and his wife, Jennifer Petersen, said they want to share their daughter’s story to keep her name alive and to help other families and children.

Jennifer Petersen said she had told Natalie to go into the garage, and watched her follow the instruction — but she must have come back out while her back was turned.

“I walked back into the garage to look for her and didn’t see her bike. I instantly went toward the driveway and I heard her just screaming and saying ‘Mommy!’ and I ran to her but I slipped,” she said.

She had assumed her daughter was in the garage and the cameras provided protection.

Jennifer Petersen said after the tragedy her other children were not allowed to ride bikes outside initially; she purchased inside bikes for them. She also researched ways to keep her children safe because she was so nervous about injuries.

Now, she is connected with the Spot the Tot program and hopes her family’s experience can help others. She encouraged people to get others involved in the program and be aware of their behaviors.

“We feel passionate that we try to turn this horrible experience of losing her into some kind of good, where we can teach other people,” Jennifer Petersen said.

At a press conference on Tuesday at St. George Regional Hospital, Dr. Nate Holman, an emergency medical physician, said the Spot the Tot program was created in 2005 to teach how to protect children from accidents where motorists back over them. He said in Utah, 60 children, including Natalie, have been killed in these types of accidents over the last 10 years; 500 children have been injured.

Holman said he is passionate about preventing injuries, but this specific injury hits home for him. Holman said when his daughter was 18 months old, his sister left a party and backed over his daughter. He said they began frantically looking for their daughter and then found her injured on the driveway, though fortunately she only had soft-tissue injuries and was back on her feet in a few days.

“We can work together to prevent tragedies like this by learning about the Spot the Tot program,” he said.

Michelle Jamison, community health program manager at Primary Children’s Hospital, said they are really proud of the program they developed, which was adopted by Safe Kids Worldwide and is used around the country.

It has three steps:

  • Walk around the vehicle
  • Listen and be aware, which includes rolling down windows
  • Eliminate distractions.

“This program has hopefully prevented a whole lot of back-overs and front-overs,” she said.

Jamison said front-overs is a newer term, and drivers also need to be aware of blind spots in front of the car, which can be up to 15 feet. She said front-overs happen most frequently in driveways or parking lots where speeds are slow.

People need to recognize children have poor impulse control and don’t recognize the boundaries of sidewalks, driveways or parking lots, she said.

“Take that extra minute and just walk around the vehicle,” Jamison said. “Human intervention is always the best prevention.”

Primary Children’s Hospital provides Spot the Tot stickers, which are designed to go in a vehicle’s driver’s side window and remind drivers to walk around the car.

Chad Petersen said even people who don’t have children should realize there could be kids around, and they are not always within the camera’s view. He said the “Spot the Tot” program is almost a lifestyle change.

“It starts with walking around your car. It starts by putting your phone down and then it continues by being a safe driver, proactive,” he said.

He said people may never know what lives are saved by them following these steps. He encouraged people to slow down, look before they take action, walk around the car and eliminate distractions.

“It was obviously a terrible, terrible tragedy for our family and we, every day, try to turn that into a positive experience. Obviously, it’s difficult. It’s been almost 10 years and you can see it’s still very difficult for both of us,” he said.

Every year, the family hosts a Spot the Tot party in the neighborhood to teach people about the program and to honor Natalie on her birthday, Nov. 11. Chad Petersen said he thinks the neighborhood is safer because of this teaching opportunity.


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Parents who lost daughter urge drivers to beware of children when backing up