Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Crash-test dummy used by defense to simulate toddler's death

TAMPA — The star defense witness in the murder trial Monday was 3 feet tall, wore a pink shirt and blue pants, and had a cute button nose and a head full of electronic sensors.

She was a toddler crash-test dummy unsentimentally named Hybrid III. A jury saw her dropped on her head 12 times on behalf of Eric James Tate, charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 2-year-old child he babysat in 2006.

All last week, a Hillsborough jury heard testimony from medical doctors that Heather Romance, the toddler Tate was babysitting, most likely died from a deliberate blow to her head.

The blow was so severe, the doctors testified, that it caused Heather's brain and retinas to bleed. Two doctors from St. Joseph's Hospital said that in 30 years they had never seen such injuries occur in minor, accidental falls.

But when Tate's side took over Monday, his attorney, Brian Gonzalez, introduced a crash-test dummy defense to bolster Tate's claim that Heather died after toppling off a couch and hitting her head on the floor.

The demonstration Monday was put together by Chris Van Ee, a biomechanical engineer from Detroit, who normally uses crash-test dummies to test seat belts and air bags.

For the Tate defense, he staged a video in a make-believe living room with a love seat the same height as the sofa in Heather's Lutz home and a small, carpeted wooden floor.

Van Ee then pretended to playfully bounce Hybrid III on the love seat before dropping her on her head.

He did that 12 times. In half the falls, Hybrid III's sensors registered sufficient G-forces to cause serious brain injury.

Van Ee conceded that in real life, children rarely die from falls from couches.

"But even if it's one in a million, that would still be 20 to 30 deaths a year," he said.

To back up his tests, Van Ee also played a video of a real-life accidental death. It was recorded by the grandmother of an unnamed 2-year-old as the girl fell off a small play set and died from a brain injury.

"Children do suffer fatal injuries from short falls," he said.

The defense rested after Tate declined to testify in his own behalf.

His trial before Circuit Judge William Fuente is substantially different from originally advertised by prosecutors. A charge of rape was dropped. So was the possibility of a death sentence.

Back in 2006, a medical examiner's document referred to reports from St. Joseph's Hospital of "vaginal bleeding with recent genital trauma." A report by a Sheriff's Office child protection officer also noted "extensive" bruises and lacerations of the child's genitals.

There was no testimony on any of that.

The jury will begin deliberations after closing statements today by the defense and prosecution.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Crash-test dummy used by defense to simulate toddler's death 06/06/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2011 10:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?

    Blogs

    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  2. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo

    Nation

    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies

    News

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  4. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win

    Colleges

    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  5. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.