A freak accident claimed the life of an Ohio teen this week after he was crushed to death by the folding third row bench seat in his minivan while the vehicle was parked at his high school, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. And although he placed two frantic 911 calls and tried to guide authorities to his location, communication issues meant officers were unable to find him before he suffocated—a lapse that is now under formal investigation.
On Tuesday afternoon, 16-year-old Kyle Plush headed out from class to grab his tennis gear from his 2004 Honda Odyssey ahead of a match later that evening. But according to official reports and interviews, as Plush knelt on the third row bench seat and reached over the back row to reach his bag in the cargo area, the fold-flat seat tipped backward, pinning him upside-down against the inside of the rear hatch.
In the Odyssey—which pioneered the fold-flat seat concept back in 1994—the seat back folds forward onto the cushion before the entire unit is flipped over backwards to fit into a well in the floor. But as the Cincinnati Enquirer found when testing an identical 2004 model this week, the third-row bench will still tip over backwards with the seat back raised if a key latch on the floor either fails or is left undone.
With his head down in the seat well and his legs in the air, Plush was trapped by the heavy bench, which pressed against his chest and slowly began to asphyxiate him. Still, he somehow managed to activate the voice-control function on his iPhone and call 911.
"Help, help, help. I'm in desperate need of help," he said in the first call, which was placed at 3:16 pm and lasted about three minutes. "I’m going to die here."
He told the 911 operator that he was trapped in his vehicle and gave his location as "Seven Hills," which is the name of the high school and well-known in the community, though the Enquirer reports that the operator sounded confused and asked for clarification several times. The call dropped after three minutes, but two officers were dispatched and arrived at the parking lot at 3:26 pm to look for Plush.
As they searched unsuccessfully, Plush made a second 911 call in which he gave details on the specific color, make, and model of his van.
"I probably don't have much time left. Just tell my mom that I love her if I die." he said to another operator. "This is not a joke. Send officers immediately. I'm almost dead."
The new information about his vehicle was never sent to the officers on scene, who left the school one minute later and marked the incident as closed. That second operator has since been placed on administrative leave, according to ABC News. A third officer who had been directing traffic at the school also joined in on the search at that point, though the updated details on the van were never passed on to him, either. He eventually gave up and spoke to the operator from the first 911 call about the possibility of it being a hoax.
Plush was found four hours later, after his family tracked his phone to the overflow parking lot across the street from The Seven Hills School, where his father discovered his body in the back of the Odyssey. The Hamilton County coroner later ruled that Plush died of "asphyxia by chest compression."
"This was a horrific tragedy," Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. "Police officers, firefighters and even our emergency dispatch personnel, you get into this because you want to help. And something went wrong here. And we need to find out why we weren't able to provide that help."
For its part, Honda says the 2004 Odyssey hasn't been the subject of any seat-related safety recalls.
"Our hearts go out to the victim’s family during this difficult time," a company spokesman told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Honda does not have any specific information from which to definitively determine what occurred in this incident."