When they heard a patient's frantic screams Thursday afternoon, employees at a Shoreview chiropractic clinic rushed into an exam room and encountered a horrifying scene.
An 18-month-old boy lay trapped and crushed beneath a 300-pound chiropractic machine that his mother was strapped into. The toddler had crawled beneath the equipment and inadvertently pressed a button that lowered it onto him as his mother lay immobilized, unable to help.
No clinic staffers were in the room when the accident happened, according to Ramsey County sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson. But there were witnesses -- the woman's two other children, both under the age of 4.
When the boy became stuck, Gustafson said, his mother "screamed to get the attention of the staff there."
Employees of the clinic, First Chiropractic, which is in the 1000 block of Hwy. 96 W., began CPR on the gravely injured boy, who had stopped breathing, authorities said Friday. A 911 call was made at 4:53 p.m., and rescuers from the Lake Johanna Fire Department quickly responded.
But it was too late. Benjamin Bryan Newton died of head injuries about 5:40 p.m. at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
"I can't imagine the grief the family is going through," Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom said Friday. "It was a routine visit."
The Sheriff's Office said it is viewing this incident as "a tragic accident and does not anticipate any criminal charges."
Authorities said it was common for the boy's 27-year-old mother, Amy E. Newton, to undergo therapy at the facility with her three small children present. Bostrom said he would not question the clinic's decision to leave her unsupervised with the children.
"It sounds like it was a matter of routine that the kids would entertain themselves in the office area," Bostrom said.
Larry Spicer, executive director of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, said his agency would have no comment until a complaint is filed and only if the board were to act on the filing.
However, the manufacturer of the machine, a Triton DTS TRT-600 spine therapy table, states in the machine's "WARNING" and "DANGER" sections of the user's manual that:
• This device should be kept out of the reach of children.
• Do not allow any unsupervised patient access to the traction table.
• Do not allow any person, object or device to be under the table while the table is in operation.
Clinic staff released a statement that said: "We are deeply grieving the loss of this little boy." Clinic chiropractor Dr. Lowell Magelssen, who is licensed by the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, did not return messages seeking further comment.
Patients often left alone
One leading chiropractic educator said her school's students are taught that a doctor or other clinic employee does not need to be with the patient during the entire time of treatment on this table or similar medical devices.
"It's completely appropriate to leave the patient unattended for the time of treatment on a traction machine or other moving machines," said College of Chiropractic Dean Renee DeVries of Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington. "People don't have to stand there and watch the machine move back and forth," she said.
The Triton DTS TRT-600 is manufactured by the Chattanooga Group, a division of DJO Global in Vista, Calif.
DJO Global spokesman Mark Francois said that company officials "don't know much ... about the incident at this time, but we will be investigating and getting to the bottom of exactly what happened."