A 5-year-old Chilhowie, Va., girl was killed when she became trapped in a laundromat washing machine and her mother was unable to open the door in time to save her, officials said yesterday.
Police in the Smyth County town said they were trying to determine how Rebecca "Hope" Wagoner got inside the triple-load washer.
Police and rescue personnel arrived at the Village Laundromat on Lee Highway in Chilhowie at 9:25 p.m. Friday. The victim, who weighed 30 pounds, was unconscious on the floor, covered with water and glass that shattered when her mother used a rock to break open the door of the machine.
The girl was flown to Holston Valley Hospital in neighboring Kingsport, Tenn., where she was pronounced dead at 10:51 p.m. The medical examiner has not determined a cause of death.
"It's an absolute tragedy," Chilhowie Police Chief Dwayne Sheffield said yesterday. "It's the tops."
Sheffield said Hope's mother, Rebecca Billings Wagoner, had stepped outside the laundromat, leaving her daughter and the girl's 14-year-old half brother alone when the victim became trapped.
The front-loading, high-capacity commercial washer, which is manufactured by Milnor, locks airtight when the door is shut and coins are inserted, Sheffield said. The door on those units, he said, is programmed to not open until the cycle is complete.
Sheffield said the victim's mother returned inside to find her daughter in the machine and tried unsuccessfully to get the washer door open. He said she then used a pay phone to dial 911 while instructing her son, whose name police are not releasing, to go outside and find a rock to break the washer's glass door.
"To the best of my understanding, the cycle had nearly completed and there was indeed water in the machine," Sheffield said. "We're still trying to determine how long she'd been in there."
He said he is meeting today with engineers from Milnor to examine the machine and will discuss the case with the Smyth County commonwealth's attorney at the end of the week.