Correction to This Article
ยท An Aug. 29 Business article about retailers recalling bassinets made by Simplicity Inc. incorrectly referred to Robert Pincus as chairman, and James A. Baker IV, Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., Ed Mathias and Ed Rogers as board members, of SFCA, the company that bought Simplicity's assets in April. Pincus is the chairman of Blackstreet Capital, a private equity fund affiliated with SFCA and Baker, Boggs, Mathias and Rogers are on Blackstreet's board of advisers.

Bassinet Sales Halted After Deaths of Two Infants

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

In the first test of its powers under a sweeping product-safety law, the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday directed retailers to pull bassinets linked to the deaths of two infants off store shelves and give customers a refund.

The directive came on the heels of a warning the CPSC issued to parents Wednesday night to stop using "close-sleeper/bedside sleeper" bassinets made by Simplicity of Reading, Pa. The CPSC acted after a 6 1/2 -month-old girl from Shawnee, Kan., was strangled to death Aug. 21 when she got caught in the bassinet's metal bars. The agency said 900,000 of the bassinets are in circulation.

The CPSC said it issued the warning and turned to retailers to pull the bassinets because SFCA, the firm that bought Simplicity's assets in April, refused to cooperate and issue a recall.

SFCA, which bought Simplicity's assets at auction, is an affiliate of Blackstreet Capital, a Bethesda private-equity fund with $88 million dollars under management. SFCA is chaired by prominent Washington banker Robert Pincus and its board is studded with political luminaries such as James A. Baker IV, a son of the former secretary of State; uber-lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs Jr.; Ed Mathias, a partner and managing director of Carlyle Group; and Ed Rogers, a founder of the public affairs firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers.

While the CPSC has the authority to mandate recalls, doing so takes time and as a result almost all recalls are voluntary.

Rick Locker, an attorney for SFCA, said the company is not responsible for products made and distributed by Simplicity, which is no longer operating, and that SFCA has fully cooperated with the CPSC. Because SFCA bought just Simplicity's assets, SFCA didn't take on legal responsibility for the products.

He added that SFCA bassinets on the market now are safe, as they are different than those involved in the two deaths. He criticized the warning, saying it didn't distinguish between safe products and the older unsafe ones.

"The lessons of the action is when a decision is made to act, accurate and timely information needs to be provided to retailers and consumers," Locker said.

The CPSC issued its warning about the Simplicity bassinets under a two-week-old law that allows the agency to alert the public more quickly. The law, which is the most sweeping reform of the nation's product-safety system in more than 20 years, was passed in response to last year's recalls of millions of lead-tainted toys.

"The agency didn't hesitate to use its new authority in this case, and it will not be shy about using this new tool to warn the public in the future when the health and safety of the public require this kind of immediate notice," CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said.

However, the bassinet warning came nearly a year after another infant, a four-month-old girl from Noel, Mo., died in a Simplicity co-sleeper bassinet, prompting safety advocates to question why the CPSC didn't act sooner. The warning affects Simplicity 4-in-1 and 3-in-1 convertible bassinets, which have a similar design.

"The second death clearly could have been prevented," said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a Chicago-based advocacy group. "The parents bought the bassinet after the previous death. Had the CPSC acted, it simply would not have been for sale."

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