This week, a 3-year-old died after falling into a grease trap outside a Tim Hortons restaurant in Rochester, New York. It sounds like a freak accident, but these oil, fat and grease-filled pits outside food establishments are not uncommon. And, unfortunately, neither are deaths and injuries associated with them.
The Rochester toddler, a child of a restaurant employee, was first reported missing before people spotted his body in the grease trap. The grease trap is embedded in the ground and its opening is flush with the ground. It was surrounded by grass and covered with a plastic lid. The boy’s body was fished out of the grease pit and CPR was administered, but the child could not be revived. He was pronounced dead at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Crews worked to secure the trap Monday evening following the accident, and replaced the plastic lid with a metal one that could support more weight.
Grease traps are used by restaurants and other establishments to store fats, oils and grease separate from the sewer system. While they are designed to be out of view, children – and even adults – can suffer serious injuries or death if they walk over one.
In 2011, a New Jersey boy drowned in a grease pit outside a grocery store just days before his fourth birthday. In 1996, a 5-year-old boy also died shortly after falling into a grease trap outside a restaurant in Louisiana.
It’s not just children who are at risk. In 2009, an 80-year-old North Carolina man charged with cleaning the trap died after falling into a supermarket grease trap. Earlier this year, a contractor for Liquid Environmental Solutions died after falling into a grease trap at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.
There have also been several close calls of people witnessing someone falling into the grease trap and rescuing them in time. All these incidents are preventable, and at least one state has taken measures to prevent them from happening again.
In October 2017, 3-year-old Sadie Grace Andrews was playing with siblings in a grassy area outside an ice cream shop in Auburn, Alabama, when she fell into a grease trap and drowned. Her devastated parents vowed to do anything in their power to prevent other children being harmed or killed by grease traps. Months after her death, their State Senator, Tom Whatley, proposed legislation requiring grease traps covers to have locking mechanisms and be strong enough to withstand the weight of a vehicle without caving in. The Sadie Grace Andrews Law was signed into law in April 2018.
Now, her parents are committed to taking this law nationwide in hopes of eliminating the possibility of another tragedy.