Boy’s tragic death offers lessons on highrise safety

Window and door locks may keep kids safer

Unlike most little boys asked to take out the trash, Latuan Danaja Chambers was grinning as he pushed the bags down the garbage chute the morning of his death.

“He was really smiley and helpful,” said neighbour Thriu Vasan, 21, who saw the 4-year-old on Monday, just hours before he plunged to his death while playing on his mother’s 21st-floor balcony at a Scarborough highrise.

Residents at the Sandhurst Circle apartment building were shaken by news of Latuan’s death.

“I don’t think he’s in heaven yet, but if he is, he’s probably watching over his mom,” said 11-year-old Damon John.

Damon and his brother Garvin Darmanie, 12, used to play baseball with Latuan and his sisters after school.

A babysitter had been watching Latuan and four other children in an apartment near Finch Ave. E. and McCowan Rd. The children’s game of Frisbee moved out to the balcony after they unlocked the patio door. Police said one threw a Frisbee and Latuan ran after it, climbing the high concrete wall of the balcony to see where it went.

While looking over, he lost his grip and fell.

Building resident Beverly John rushed to check on her own child after hearing about the accident.

“Children can sometimes just disappear,” she said. “It makes me think about my kids and worry.”

The worry could be alleviated if parents and caregivers avoided leaving children unsupervised for even a few moments, said Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council.

“The best defence is common sense. Child supervision is absolutely critical.”

Caregivers also need to make sure children can’t open windows or, as in Latuan’s case, unlock the door.

While the Ontario Building Code sets out required dimensions for railings and openings on a balcony and windows, locks on balcony doors aren’t mandatory.

These requirements may change if the coroner finds the death was preventable.

Amy Ziehler, executive director of Safe Kids Canada, suggests parents remove objects on a balcony kids could climb on, realize that window screens can’t prevent a fall, and look into installing window guards and patio door locks, which can cost as little as $6 at a hardware store.

Originally published in The Toronto Star on May 24, 2000 and co-written with Amira Elghawaby