After child's death, a family back from the brink

Wesley and Becky Fletcher of Walla Walla pose with their son, Everett, and a teddy bear sporting some of their late son Milo’s things. Milo died after a car crash in 2012 on Interstate 82 near Yakima.

Wesley and Becky Fletcher of Walla Walla pose with their son, Everett, and a teddy bear sporting some of their late son Milo’s things. Milo died after a car crash in 2012 on Interstate 82 near Yakima. Photo by Michael Lopez.

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Child car seat tips

Since losing her 6-month-old son Milo in a car crash in July 2012, Becky Fletcher has become car-seat installation technician certified by Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit founded in 1988 to reduce injuries in children.

Most states require by law that children in cars ride in size- and age-appropriate infant, child and then booster seats. But often seats are not installed correctly by parents and caregivers or used properly.

Safe Kids, online at safekids.org, offers the following checkup to provide key tips that will help parents, grandparents and caregivers begin to ensure that their car seat is used and installed properly:

Right Seat. Check the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height. Like milk, your car seat has an expiration date. Just double check the label on your car seat to make sure it is still safe.

Right Place. Kids are VIPs, just ask them. We know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are big enough to ride without a booster seat.

Right Direction. You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, usually until around age 2. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.

Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base where the seat belt fits. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.

Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car-seat manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.

Also, Washington state law requires children who’ve outgrown child seats to ride in booster seats until they are at least 4-feet-9-inches tall or 8 years old. The seat raises the child so that standard seat belts designed for average-size adult passengers fit properly.

More information is available locally through the Walla Walla Traffic Safety Task Force, which periodically offers car seat installation clinics and inspections. Information about the Task Force and its various safety programs is available online at 1.usa.gov/1imetlC, by calling Nancy McClenney-Walters at 509-524-2936 or by emailing her at nwalters@wwchhs.o...

It’s the perfect family portrait.

An adorable baby boy on the comfy couch, bookended by his smiling mom and dad. Outside it’s raining, but inside the West Walla Walla home an air of happiness nearly glows.

Everett Wesley Fletcher was born Aug. 15, arriving at 8 pounds five ounces after causing his parents a lot of worry and a fast trip to Tri-Cities for delivery.

The baby looks a bit like his big brother, Milo, “but less than I expected,” said Everett’s mother, Becky Fletcher.

In a few more months, she and husband Wesley Fletcher will no longer know how closely the brothers may have resembled one another.

Milo Jameson Fletcher died July 1, 2012, at 6 months old, in a car crash on Interstate 82.

Despite precautions — Wes had slowed down for a cooler that was tumbling down the road after coming loose from a truck up ahead; Becky had educated herself about and obsessed over car-seat safety for her first child — the couple could not control the tragedy that engulfed them that day.

According to Washington State Patrol reports, as the family headed home from Seattle and Milo’s first Mariners game, the Fletchers’ 2007 Mazda sedan was struck from behind by a Ford F-150 pickup, whose driver appeared not to notice the slowed traffic.

Wes wasn’t injured; they could tell that right away. Becky went into shock and suffered facial cuts and contusions. Milo looked fine, but his car seat ended up between Wes’s and Becky’s front bucket seats instead of the back seat where it had been.

What the Fletchers would learn in the next few hours was how devastating the force of the collision was to Milo. Not even the new car seat he was riding in could protect the baby from brain trauma. The swelling was too severe and there was no response to treatment, doctors at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital told Wes and Becky.

The couple said goodbye to Milo as they held him in that hospital room until his breaths faded away.

They then returned home to Walla Walla to face an altered universe.

Although Milo’s car seat did not save his life, the Fletchers believed their boy’s legacy would be built through safety for others. Knowing how “neurotic” she had been about the issue made it hard to imagine being a parent who lost a child through improper car-seat installation, Becky said in a Union-Bulletin story in 2012.

“How could you live with yourself?”

She began the training process and in May become a car-seat installation technician, certified by Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit founded in 1988 to reduce injuries in children from motor vehicles, sports, drownings, burns, poisonings and more.

Becky, 25, now participates in community and individual car-seat checks.

“Sometimes I have to tell some parents something is not correct,” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people realize. But when you do find out you can be doing something better, you do it. That’s what makes a good parent.”

The family plans to begin a nonprofit foundation to ensure parents who can’t afford one can get an appropriate and safe car seat, she noted, “in Milo’s honor.”

The Fletchers bought a 2013 Ford Explorer for the rig’s safety features, including collision-avoidance technology.

“We did a lot of research and test driving,” said Wes, 24.

They also bought a house. It needed renovation, but boasts a back yard just begging to be played in and a kitchen with lots of room for family meals.

As much as they would trade those things for having Milo alive, the money to make those purchases came in the form of insurance settlements. Companies representing the Ford driver and the cooler’s owner paid up, the Fletchers said.

It’s not a comfortable feeling, Becky added. “I worry about being judged, worry what people will think. But I don’t think of it as a payoff, I view it as the way Milo is taking care of us now. Milo’s blessing allowed us to focus on our family.”

A family that now includes a little brother.

When the at-home pregnancy test showed positive, “I was literally jumping up and down in the bathroom,” Becky recalled, smiling at her husband. “We hugged and we cried.”

That, she added, was the first joyous moment they’d experienced since losing their son.

They chose not to learn their baby’s gender before birth, but Becky was fairly certain a girl was on the way. When a boy emerged into the Fletcher universe, however, it felt perfect, she said.

“I was so happy to have another son ... there is something about having sons,” she said.

This tiny boy was definitely the antidote, she added, wrapping Everett’s body into a hug and nuzzling his hair.

Indeed, the child is already many things. He has a healthy appetite and a generous smile. He’s picky about his sleep environment but loves to play with Milo’s toys.

And sometimes — sometimes — the baby is prone to gazing at a blank spot on a wall and giving a gummy grin.

“Without a doubt, I know it’s Milo,” Becky said. “He’s removed from us physically, but he’s still connecting with us.”

Milo would have turned 2 this month. There are moments here and there when Becky has to stop and wonder — did she think of her firstborn the day before?

“The reality is, he’s gone,” she said. “Life is so preoccupied and busy. It does hurt, but I know he doesn’t judge me for that ... I try to forgive myself.”

The Fletchers are spending as much time as possible with their second son, and work to keep anxiety from overtaking their lives. Soon, parenting Everett will be a whole new world.

“In this period, it’s a repeat. We know what to do. But when he’s 6 months, we’re going to be first-time parents again,” Becky said. “We’ll get to experience what we’ve been robbed of.”

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