State house news service photo
Zella-Ray Martin was 2 years, 2 months and 2 days old when she fell to her death out of the window of her mother’s Fitchburg apartment last October.
Now, her family is pushing to pass a law in her memory that they hope will prevent similar tragedies by requiring window guards or locks in the homes of young children.
State Rep. Colleen Garry, the bill’s sponsor, said seven children have fallen out of windows in Massachusetts since April, though none of those falls has been fatal.
Testifying before the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee with the Martin family, Garry held up a window lock she said one of Zella’s uncles bought the night before for $7 at Lowe’s. She called it a small cost that could potentially save a life.
“It is negligence, and our children are being punished,” said Garry, a Dracut Democrat. “We require car seats in every car before a baby goes home. We help people to put the covers on the electric sockets in their home. I think people just don’t think about the windows.”
Garry’s bill (H 2067) calls for the state Department of Public Health to establish a Window Falls Prevention Program. In homes where there is a child under age 6, window guards — including bars, screens or grilles — would need to be installed on any windows accessible to children on the third floor or higher.
A similar bill (S 1428), filed by state Sen. Mark Montigny, would require landlords to install and maintain window guards in units occupied by a tenant with a child 10 years old or younger, at the tenant’s request.
Kyle Martin, Zella’s dad, held his young son, Bellamy, while his sister, Amy, read a statement on his behalf. His father, Kirby Martin, held up a large photo of Zella.
The Martins said Kyle had raised concerns about the safety of the windows in his ex-wife’s apartment months before his daughter fell.
“Zella-Ray’s brother, Bellamy, will never know her or the love she had for him,” Amy Martin said. “He looks and acts so much like her, and our hearts are still broken. There are so many safety locks that could have been used that would have saved her life.”
State Rep. Liz Miranda of the Dorchester section of Boston said her district has a “huge density” of apartment buildings where some young children have also fallen from windows in recent years. She asked Garry who would be responsible for installing the window guards in rental properties.
“I just want to get some clarity on who would be responsible because although seven to 20 dollars isn’t a lot of money, it can be cost-prohibitive to many families that are run by single parents and may not have the access to that sort of additional funds,” Miranda said.
Garry said her bill is modeled after the state’s lead-paint laws, and would make it mandatory for landlords to put in the guards and prohibit them from refusing housing to someone because of the need for window guards.
State Rep. Harold Naughton, who co-chairs the committee, said that in researching the issue before the hearing, he had seen some “hesitation” from fire departments over the prospect of mandatory window guards. Garry pointed out language in her bill requiring that the guards be removable if they’re installed on fire-escape routes.
Naughton said he’d pass the material he found along to Garry.
“I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be overcome with some research and working together,” he said.