A 2-year-old boy whose head was nearly crushed when a 200-pound steel gate fell on him in the Ponce de Leon public housing complex apparently will survive, officials said Monday. According to police reports, the 7-foot by 5-foot gate came loose and fell because the hinges had rusted. Tampa Housing Authority officials say they aren't sure what happened.
"I don't have the exact cause," said Housing Authority operations director Angelo DePaul. "But there were witnesses who said kids were leaning on it and swinging on it."
This much is certain: Frank Kendrick and his cousin were playing in front of Frank's house at 1612 Andrade Court about 7:30 p.m. Sunday when the steel gate slipped from its hinges and fell on top of the boys.
The bigger boy, King Kendrick, 3, was able to slip out uninjured, but Frank was pinned unconscious to a cement sidewalk and suffered severe head injuries, Frank's mother, Renae Heyward said.
He was taken to Tampa General Hospital and was in fair condition Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
"It was one of the most horrible experiences I've ever seen," said neighbor Frances Storrod, who was sitting on her porch watching the boys when the gate fell. "This gate just tumbled down on these two kids and they couldn't move."
Storrod screamed for Heyward and the two tried to pull the gate off the boy. They succeeded after an unidentified person arrived to help moments later.
"When I picked him up, he wasn't breathing," Heyward said.
Ironically, the gate and surrounding fence were erected two years ago in an effort to keep residents in the complex safe. The idea was to keep drug dealers out while providing a place for children to play safely in their yards.
The fence was manufactured and installed by the Housing Authority, DePaul said, and was expected to last "forever."
But he said the gates receive a lot of wear and tear from the residents, some of whom have bent them, cut them with bolt cutters and tried to pull them from their hinges by attaching them to a car with a rope, DePaul said.
"This is not the first time a gate has fallen," DePaul said. "Other people have been hurt."
Although he wouldn't elaborate, DePaul said none of those incidents was as serious as Sunday's accident.
He said there are no routine fence inspections, but housing complex managers are supposed to report problems they find. He said there are no plans to do away with the fences.
Both Storrod and Heyward said the fences do little to keep drug dealers out and Heyward said she considers them a fire hazard.
"I've told my granddaughter, don't stand around the gate. Just don't go near it," Storrod said. "These things are dangerous."