In October 2017, Sadie Grace Andrews was playing with her siblings in a grassy area of the Bruster’s Real Ice Cream in Auburn, Alabama, when she fell into the restaurant’s grease trap and drowned. Yet, as Sadie’s parents had hoped, her death, their worst nightmare, was not in vain. It prompted a new law to better protect children and other patrons of restaurants across Alabama.
Months after Sadie’s tragic death, during the state legislative session, Tom Whatley, a Republican state senator who represents the Auburn area, proposed legislation that would become the Sadie Grace Andrews Law. It was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey in April 2018. The law requires grease trap covers to include locking mechanisms, such as a bolt or lock, and to be strong enough to withstand the weight of a person or a vehicle without opening accidentally.
Critics of the law claim it is government overreach, but the Andrews family’s experience demonstrated the need for safer grease disposal systems and oversight to ensure compliance.
The family-friendly setting with its grassy open area next to the outdoor tables and chairs beckoned children to play while their families enjoyed their ice cream treats. That is what Sadie and her siblings did.
While running across the grass, Sadie stepped on the hidden grease trap covering, which was unsecured and in poor condition, flipping it open. She then fell into the 6-foot-deep, inground grease pit full of sludge. After the toddler fell in, the covering flipped back in place, trapping her inside and preventing others from locating her until it was too late. When she was found, she could not be revived.
Bruster’s was responsible for maintaining the property while Tuf-Tite, Inc., manufactured the grease trap’s defective plastic covering. Tuf-Tite sold a safety lid/pan designed to “help prevent anyone (especially children) from falling into” the system, but the additional equipment was optional.
The Act went into effect June 1, 2018, and gave restaurants and other commercial food establishments until December 2018 to comply. The Act’s provisions charged the Alabama Department of Public Health with implementing rules for compliance, and department health inspectors have begun checking to see if establishments meet the requirements as part of their routine inspections. Those found lacking face a $100 fine each day they are out of compliance. At least one local municipality in Alabama, Mobile, has also approved a local fine – $100 a day – in addition to the state-levied fines. Local health department officials explained that it gives added strength to the new regulation and helps encourage compliance.
After signing the law, Gov. Ivey said she hopes the Act keeps other families from suffering the same tragedy as befell the Andrews family.
The Andrews family hopes the law will serve as a model for other states. The family’s faithful testimony has affected many lives in their community, and they are also working to establish the Sadie Hope Ministries as a way to help other families dealing with the loss of a child and sibling.