LOCAL NEWS

Playground fall survivor shares recovery story; expert explains safety guidelines

Mar 6, 2024, 6:46 PM | Updated: 6:48 pm

OREM — Following the death of a Tooele boy on his school playground, some Utah families are reevaluating how safe outdoor equipment is.

An attorney representing Dallin Cunningham’s parents told KSL they believe there was inadequate mulch where he fell. His parents are suing the Tooele School District.

Jen Makin’s son, Chase was in an accident similar to Cunningham’s.

“January 15th of 2012, my husband and I were out of town for an anniversary trip and we flew in and as we landed, we got the news that our son had fallen off of a playground slide,” Makin said.

Chase had fallen from a 15-foot slide while playing with his siblings.

“When he went over the slide, the twisty part of it, he hit his jaw twice, going down,” Makin said.

She and her husband rushed to Primary Children’s Hospital where they learned Chase suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“Due to the nature of the injury, it looked like he was going to pass away and that was really scary for us,” she said.

Following the death of a Tooele boy on his school playground, some Utah families are reevaluating how safe outdoor equipment is. (KSL TV)

A full recovery

Fortunately, Chase made a remarkable recovery.

“I am a walking miracle,” the now 21-year-old said.

He thinks of himself as a normal guy, despite his injury.

“I don’t see my deficits, and that’s one of the miracles, I believe, of coming out of my accident,” Chase said.

He spent a lot of time re-learning basic skills.

“How to walk, how a run, how to sit up, how to crawl…how to eat solid foods,” he said.

Chase said he was bullied all throughout school.

“Thank you, by the way,” he said. “Made me a much better, stronger person.”

His mom said Chase has also had mental health issues stemming from his TBI.

“If you look at research, individuals coming back from war with TBIs have suicidal thoughts and things like that,” she said.

She said can’t see slides the same way ever since her son’s accident.

“If I walk by a park and see a child at the top of the slide, I have to look away,” Jen said.

Chase’s accident changed the rules in his family.

“I did not allow playgrounds for a couple of years,” Makin said.

Guidelines to keep playground areas safe

Certified Playground Safety Inspector Dr. Suzanne Rodriguez, who is also a supervision and school administration expert for Robson Forensic, said there’s a set of guidelines all parks in the country must follow to keep play areas safe.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes a Public Playground safety handbook,” she said.

The handbook, which is available to the public, outlines rules that covers a playground from the top of slides to the ground.

“The standards also identify the required depths of those loose fill materials to lessen impact and injury,” Rodriguez said.

The handbook said loose fill surfaces like wood chips compress over time due to weathering and use.

There’s a set of guidelines all parks in the country must follow to keep play areas safe. (KSL TV)

“Maintenance is consistent with that playground usage, whether that be daily, weekly or monthly checks,” she said. “If it’s…a high frequent use playground that’s used again, high frequently, then it requires a higher frequency of inspection.”

Rodriguez said it’s also important to look at what the appropriate age of the user is for different kinds of equipment.

“Typically, you’re going to see playground equipment that is for preschool-age children, ages two to five, or school-age children, ages five to 12,” she said.

Rodriguez said supervision is key to keeping children safe.

“Parents should also be actively supervising, watching their kids, making sure that kids are enjoying the play, but also doing so in a safe manner,” she said.

Makin says she doesn’t know if her family could have prevented her son’s accident.

“There’s not a user guide for the slide…kids are kids,” she said.

Though Chase has outgrown playground slides, hearing another family’s story has given his family time to reflect and express their empathy.

“It made me look at my life and be like, ‘Wow, that could have been me,'” he said. “My heart goes out to the family.”

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Playground fall survivor shares recovery story; expert explains safety guidelines