Passage of time hasn’t eased the pain caused by the death of Kimberly Booker’s son, Alexander. The 11-year-old died in 2007 when a motorized vehicle at a construction site in Fort Washington overturned on top of him.
Setbacks in courts, Congress and the Maryland legislature in the years since her son’s death haven’t deterred Booker from continuing to do all she can to ensure that other families avoid the heartache her family endured because of Alexander’s tragic accident.
Although her work has broadened over the years to include all child-safety issues, Booker’s main focus remains safety at construction sites. She speaks at schools. She offers awareness programs through the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. She runs the nonprofit Alexander Lance Booker Child Safety Foundation. She thinks her work is all the more important now in Prince George’s County with ongoing or expected large development projects such as the Tanger Outlets and a casino near Fort Washington, Konterra in Laurel, Greenbelt Station Town Centre and University Town Center in College Park. Alexander died at the National Harbor construction site.
It was after school, and Alexander — then a student at John Hanson French Immersion and Montessori School in Oxon Hill — met with new friends, his mother said. Alexander’s brother, Aaron, about a year younger, was with him. When the friends suggested the group go onto the construction site, Aaron went home, Booker says. Alexander stayed with the group. Once on the site, the boys somehow started a vehicle. Alexander rode in the rear. When the vehicle overturned, it crushed him.
“I do not lift the burden off of Alexander,” Booker says. “He made the decision to go along with those boys. I tell kids now ‘Understand this: You make bad decisions, you may not go home.’
“My son made the wrong decision, and it cost him his life.”
Do not mistake Booker’s direct talk for ice-cold emotion. Talk to her long enough about Alexander and tears flow. And they will not all be hers.
“When you have to dig a hole in the ground, put your child in it, cover him with dirt, and then walk away and leave him there,” Booker says, “it does something to you that is hard to explain. I do what I have to do to so other parents do not have to feel this way.”
The family sued the Peterson Cos., the developer of the site, and others in Prince George’s Circuit Court. It lost there and on appeal. The lawsuit essentially failed because Alexander and his friends trespassed onto the construction site. Under Maryland law, that didn’t outweigh the fact that the site wasn’t secure enough to keep them out.
Then Booker tried legislative bodies. She turned to Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D), her congresswoman, and state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D), who represents the area that includes her home and National Harbor. That led to bills that sought to strengthen regulations at construction sites — especially those near areas frequented by children — to require fencing, alarms on motorized vehicles and graphic signs warning of dangers. Both bills died in committee.
Muse introduced his bill in 2010 and 2011. The bill failed to get backing from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said the bill would require hiring four addition inspectors at an annual cost of $200,000, says Muse, who plans to introduce the bill a third time.
“Even if we had to spend $200,000 for new inspectors, we thought that was worth it if it could save the life of one child,” Muse says.
In a written statement, the department says, “We can say with great confidence that — even in a recovering economy — this Administration has routinely made the necessary agency investments needed to protect and empower Marylanders.”
Part of the problem in getting support is numbers. Apparently, governments and industry in the United States track only worker deaths and injuries at construction sites. England launched a national campaign to raise awareness on the issue a decade ago after 16 children died and more than 800 were injured while playing on construction sites over a decade.
In April, a 6-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy were killed at a construction site near Charlotte when they became trapped beneath a mound of dirt. Booker knows there are more cases. She finds reports of them by searching Google.
“My son’s death will never be in vain,” Booker says. “If it takes my last breath, they will know who he is.”
Keith Harriston lives in Prince George’s County and has two children in public schools. He teaches journalism at Howard University, where he edits hunewsservice.com.