TAMPA — With year-round swimming, Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths of children younger than 5. Pools and beaches are the obvious hazards, keeping wary parents on their toes.
But sometimes, heartache waits where few would expect.
One-year-old Mujeeb Bouazizi drowned Sunday in a blue, 5-gallon plastic bucket in the garage of his family's home. The bucket held 5 inches of water and cleaning solution. Mujeeb was out of sight no more than 10 minutes.
Though rare, such incidents are not unheard of. Anywhere from 10 to 40 children a year drown in buckets nationwide, according to reports from the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
People often keep 5-gallon buckets around the house long after the paint, pool chemicals or drywall mud they originally carried are gone. They're handy for storage and cleaning.
Toddlers, just beginning to walk, are wobbly and top-heavy, said safety commission spokeswoman Nychelle Fleming. Their center of gravity often comes just above the bucket's rim.
"They topple over and don't have the strength or dexterity to lift out,'' Fleming said. "A very small amount of water can do it.''
Mujeeb and his twin sister were the youngest of seven children. Neighbors described his parents as very attentive, always keeping an eye on them. Florida Department of Children and Families spokesman Terry Fields said the agency never had cause to investigate the family.
Mujeeb's mother, Najet Bouazizi, spoke briefly to a reporter Monday evening from the doorway of her New Tampa home. She declined to describe the events leading to her son's death. She had told police all she could, she said, and her husband, Moncef, was exhausted and resting in bed.
Mujeeb's twin sister "misses him so much," she said, her voice breaking. Her 10-year-old son reached over and put his arms around her waist as they wept.
The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accidental drowning Monday, and no charges are pending. Newspaper archives indicate that three Tampa Bay infants have died in buckets since the early 1990s, with none of the parents charged.
In 1987, an Ocala woman was convicted of culpable negligence after her 11-month-old son drowned in a bucket, but in that case she left the boy and his 2-year-old brother alone while she watched a soap opera at a neighbor's house.
Kayla Mattox, 21, of Fort Walton Beach knows how quickly things can go wrong.
Her husband, William, was using a 5-gallon bucket to clean a carpet last December. Their toddler, Conor, was in his bedroom, behind a baby gate.
When Mattox went to the bathroom to clean out a scrub brush, Conor somehow escaped his bedroom and drowned in the bucket.
At 2 ½, Conor was much older than most bucket victims. He had Down syndrome, was small for his age and had just started walking.
"He loved everything he could get into,'' he mother said Monday. "He was just curious. He liked to touch things and pull them down. He was very happy."
The couple divorced after Conor's death.
Kayla Mattox had this advice for parents: "I wouldn't have a bucket around a child. Even if you think it couldn't happen in a million years, there's always a chance.''
Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in children age 1 or younger, according to a 2004 study by Safe Kids USA, a nationwide coalition dedicated to accident prevention.
The most likely place a child younger than 1 drowns is inside the house, led by bathtubs, toilets and buckets.
Philip Adler, a pediatrician who practices at HealthPoint Medical Group in Westchase, counsels parents about drowning dangers at children's 15-month checkups.
Pool fences and beaches are staples of the conversation, he said. After this weekend, he plans to expand his talk.
"The bucket thing is certainly scary, and I will mention buckets as a source of drowning," said Adler, who has practiced for more than 50 years.
Brain damage can begin within three or four minutes from when a child takes in water, said Rafael Santiago, a pediatric emergency physician at All Children's Hospital.
"People put a 6-month-old in the bathtub in just an inch of water and they fall face first and can't get up,'' Santiago said. "Someone leaves them alone with a sibling while they answer the phone and that's all it takes.''
Parents should empty water-filled buckets immediately after washing a car or scrubbing a floor, said Jean Shoemaker, the hospital's safe kids coordinator.
"A 1- or 2-year-old is not necessarily going to tell you before they go out and use something.''
Times staff writers Jodie Tillman, Letitia Stein and Danny Valentine and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.