Oct. 22, 2001 - April 12, 2005
Milan was a happy and loving little boy, who enjoyed life to its fullest. He was affectionately called “Smilin’ Milan”. He enjoyed playing with his tractors, bulldozers, pow-pow, and Grandpa Bob’s “injun ponies.” He especially enjoyed being outdoors and going fishing and hunting with his dad.
Grandson's death spurs auto safety crusade
By Sara Bredesen, Staff Reporter Wednesday, May 18, 2005
AURORA - On the afternoon of April 12, 3-year-old Milan Hedmark slipped out of the house ahead of his mother, who stopped to answer the phone.
Milan climbed into the driver's seat of the family's 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe and slid the shifter into neutral. As the car rolled, picking up speed, the youngster either jumped or was thrown from the vehicle and was crushed to death under its wheels.
It didn't make sense. How could a little boy bypass the safety system and get the car into gear without having his foot on the brake?
"When the sheriff's department called the next morning, they told us about the key, and we couldn't believe it," said Bob Hedmark, the boy's grandfather.
The car key was turned to an intermediate position that allowed the steering and transmission to unlock without powering the electrical system. A little bump of the shifter could get the vehicle moving.
"You can go to Fleet Farm and buy a $999 Murray lawnmower, and a kid can't start it. They've got about three switches on them, and an adult can hardly get them going," Mr. Hedmark said. "Then, you go and buy a $30,000 or $40,000 vehicle and they've got a fluke in them like this?"
The issue has Mr. Hedmark on a crusade to get Ford and GM to recall their full-size vehicles manufactured after 1995 and to redesign the safety system in new ones.
Mr. Hedmark, who owns L&H Utility Contractors in Kingston, Mich., said his five Ford trucks all have the same unlocking feature.
He and his wife already have traded in a Cadillac for a Dodge minivan because of safety concerns.
"We've talked to a lot of people who said if (the dealers) told me that could happen, I wouldn't buy one, but a lot of the dealers don't even know about it," he said.
Mr. Hedmark said he found that some owner's manuals make mention of a "free" key position to be used when vehicles are towed or moved in a service garage, "but they don't give you a warning - just that it's there," he said.
"My goal is to get this thing changed," Mr. Hedmark said.
”We live in rural America, and most of the time, the keys are left in the vehicle, but you're given a false sense of safety. You think these things can't move unless you put your foot on the brake to shift it, and that's wrong," Mr. Hedmark said.
Mr. Hedmark said foreign manufacturers like Toyota and Honda and late-model Dodge vehicles don't have the same system. Neither do smaller GM and Ford vehicles.
"But they're all different," Mr. Hedmark said.
He suggests people test their vehicles by parking them on an incline, turning the key to its different positions and trying to move the shifter.
"Some of them practically fall out of park," he said.
Mr. Hedmark is dedicating three hours a day to what he's calling the Lil-Milan campaign, writing letters and making phone calls to media and government officials. Media as close as the Florence Mining News and as far as the weekend NBC "Today" show already have contacted him.
"We've had nothing but positive response on the whole thing," he said. "I just plan on sending it to more and more people."
"It's a tough thing for us as grandparents to lose one of our grandchildren, and it's a lot tougher on the parents. I just don't want to see anybody else have to go through what we had to go through," Mr. Hedmark said.
Sara Bredesen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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