GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Investigators were trying to determine Monday why an air-tight commercial ice chest in which a young girl and her two brothers died was left easily accessible in an area where children play.
Preliminary autopsy results indicate Dorothy Mae Stiles, 6, died of suffocation. Autopsies on her two brothers, Joseph, 5, and Christopher, 4, were expected to confirm the same cause of death, said Lt. Gillis of the Grand Rapids Police Department.
The children's bodies were found Saturday night, as neighbors and police combed the northeast side neighborhood after the children did not come home for dinner.
The chest was situated beside the Weidenfeller Engineering Co., which buys, reconditions and sells used restaurant refrigeration equipment. Neighbors said children have been known to play near the business just 100 yards from the Stiles home.
'We are in the process of contacting the owners,' Gillis said. 'The chest was easily accessible to anyone who walked up the driveway. It was sitting right alongside the building and the door was fully accessible.'
Investigators said the ice chest had a handle latch held in place with a piece of metal and there was no way the door could be opened from the inside.
Since 1954, state law has prohibited the abandonment of ice boxes, refrigerators or other containers in which children could become trapped without first removing the locking device, the Kent County Prosecutor's Office said.
The misdemeanor count is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine, but if a death results, homicide charges may be brought, a spokeswoman said.
Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle, who pronounced all three children dead at the scene, said the youngsters may have died within 30 minutes, although they were trapped in the chest for several hours in 90-plus degree temperatures.
'We are looking at everyone's responsibility in this ... from the mother to the owner of the icebox,' Gillis said. 'We're talking to the prosecutor and a lot of people need to be interviewed. We have a lot of questions on this.'