Child scalded using toilet at city school Faulty water heater blamed for spewing steam from fixtures

June 22, 1996|By Alex Gordon | Alex Gordon,SUN STAFF

A simple trip to the bathroom at Hazelwood Elementary-Middle School in Northeast Baltimore turned into a harrowing experience Tuesday for first-grader Ashley Moore.

Scalding water and steam burst from the toilet after she flushed it, leaving her with second- and third-degree burns over the back of her body, from her shoulders to her ankles, according to police and her mother.

Screaming and in tears, the 7-year-old ran from the bathroom and was taken to the nurse's office where her clothes were removed. She was taken by paramedics to the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and is in fair condition in the pediatrics unit.

"It was horrible to see Ashley's face as she was running out of the bathroom," said Donna Hankerson, who has children at the school and helped Ashley after she was burned. "She kept screaming about how much it hurt."

The toilet malfunction resulted from a problem with the school's water heater, according to Catherine Foster, spokeswoman for the city Department of Education. The water in the heater apparently exceeded the maximum temperature designated for the system. The hot water backed up and overflowed into the cold water lines -- into the toilets, sinks and drinking fountains.

Principal Edith Harrison was aware of the hot water problem before Ashley was burned, Foster said. She said that Harrison issued a warning over the school public address system earlier Tuesday after two people complained of being burned, one by a toilet and the other by water from a sink faucet.

But Foster said that Ashley's class was in the cafeteria at the time and apparently did not hear the announcement.

Problems with Hazelwood's hot water system are nothing new. Twice before Ashley's experience -- in mid-May and again in early June -- complaints were raised about excessively hot water in the faucets, Foster said. School officials said that in both instances repairs were made by the next day.

After Ashley was burned, school officials ordered all water immediately shut off. The school remained open and used outside water for the rest of the day. Word of Ashley's experience spread quickly, and many parents -- some already at school Tuesday for eighth-grade commencement exercises -- took their children out of school.

School system workers and a private contractor repaired the malfunction overnight, Foster said.

Rather than celebrate the end of school with her class, Ashley will stay in the hospital at least six weeks. She will have to undergo surgery and skin grafts, said her mother, Tamala Moore, who has slept at her daughter's bedside since Tuesday.

"Ashley doesn't talk about the incident much," her mother said. "She is alert enough to talk and focus when she feels like it -- and yell out when she is in pain."

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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