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Sunday, Aug 20, 2017

Golf cart deaths more common than thought

Erika Robinson was devoted to her family and determined to make sure her 5-year-old son spent quality time with his father, Nathaniel Williams. On Saturday, she and her son, Graham — nicknamed "Bub" — headed to Williams' Land O'Lakes home for a visit. Leaving Graham with friends for a few minutes, she and Williams decided to take a ride through the neighborhood in a golf cart around 10 p.m. "Apparently they were just going to take a quick spin because they didn't even take Bub with them," said her father, Ted Robinson. His daughter rarely left Bub's side, he said. On the ride, Williams, who was behind the wheel, took a sharp left turn on Sheffield Road. Robinson, 27, fell out of the cart and hit her head on the pavement.
A few hours later, she was dead. According to a safety expert who studies golf cart accidents, deaths and serious injuries happen far more often than people realize. "News media always describe them as freak accidents, but they are not," said Kristopher Seluga, who works for Technology Associates, a Connecticut-based company that reconstructs accidents. "Somebody dies every week in this country from falling out of a golf cart." Most often, it involves a left turn. The passenger has no place to hold onto, and the rail on the outside of the vehicle acts as a fulcrum that causes the person to fall up and over, onto his or her head. That scenario was similar to what happened to Robinson. Christopher Grainger, 16, said his parents were watching a movie when Williams arrived, frantic, on their doorstep, directly across the street from the accident. Grainger grabbed a flashlight and headed out with his mother, Lisa Grainger, to help. She spoke to a 911 dispatcher, relaying CPR instructions to Williams as he tried to save Robinson. "I felt bad for the guy and the girl," Christopher Grainger said. "The guy was pretty devastated, worried, shocked, didn't know what to do. The girl was unconscious." About 13,000 golf cart-related accidents require emergency room visits each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Seluga would like to see all golf carts have seat belts and a hand rail on the inside of the cart. Children are more likely to fall because they are unable to brace their feet on the floorboard, Seluga said. In 2010, Gabriella Wiegert, 6, died when she fell from a golf cart her sister was driving. Her father, Shannon Wiegert, started an online petition to get the Florida Legislature to require helmets and seat belts on the carts. About a year after his daughter's death, he killed himself at his Lakeland home. Florida doesn't require seat belts and allows children as young as 14 to drive golf carts. Driving the carts is forbidden before sunrise or after dark, however. It was nighttime when Williams and Robinson headed out for a ride. The couple met in high school and dated for years before Graham was born. They broke up soon after but remained in close touch. Robinson and her son lived with her parents. "She stayed close to home," said her father, describing her as an excellent mother. The accident remains under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol. Williams could not be reached for comment. Robinson's memorial service will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at Boza & Roel Funeral Home, 4730 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa. The family will receive friends from 6 to 7 p.m.

dkoehn@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8264
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