2nd Death Blamed on Pokemon Ball
After Slow Start, Burger King Effort to Recall Toy Is Praised
By Sarah Schafer
Federal regulators have worked furiously with the company since the Dec. 27 recall--one of the biggest toy recalls in history--in what they now say has been an "excellent" effort, despite Tuesday's death.
"They have come around now, [but] we did have to push them," Ann Brown, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
On Tuesday, four-month-old Zachary Jones of Lawrence, Ind., suffocated in his crib on a Poke ball, according to Don Deputy of the Lawrence Police Department, the captain assigned to the case. He was not sure whether the child's 33-year-old step-grandmother, who left the item in the boy's crib and later found the dead child, was aware of the recall.
Pokemon, short for "Pocket Monsters," are characters based on a Nintendo video game and featured in a recent Warner Brothers movie, television cartoons and Hasbro Inc. trading cards.
The hollow ball, which measures three inches in diameter and contains tiny Pokemon toys, opens like a clamshell and therefore can fit over a child's mouth and nose.
When a 13-month-old girl in California died in a similar incident in December, Burger King did not immediately recall the toys, nor did the company temporarily suspend the Pokemon toy giveaway as the CPSC advised.
Instead, the company opted to wait. Only after a near miss with an 18-month-old child--whose father had to pull the ball off of her mouth--did the company institute the recall.
The first death did not prompt a recall from Burger King because "it was not concluded that the ball was the cause," said Charles Nicolas, a spokesman for Miami-based Burger King, a unit of British food and spirits maker Diageo PLC.
Since then the ball has been cited as the cause of suffocation in the December death.
Nicolas said he did not know why the company didn't act on the commission's initial advice.
Once the toy was recalled, however, Burger King issued a news release, took out an advertisement in USA Today and placed posters in its 8,000 stores nationwide. Recently, the company was working with the commission on ways to reach more potential owners of the toys. It is mailing posters to 10,000 emergency rooms, 56,000 pediatricians and 25,000 clinics. In addition, the company will produce tray liners and bags with a recall notice and is posting recall information on hundreds of Pokemon Web sites and chat rooms that have popped up continually since the Pokemon craze began.
In light of Tuesday's death, the company will initiate a second media blitz, including radio ads.
About 25 million Poke balls were given out with children's meals before the recall. It is impossible to determine how many are still in homes, Brown said.
She added that Burger King's efforts at reaching consumers have been admirable since it initiated the recall.
"It was not enough, it seems like," Nicolas said.
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