WASHINGTON (AP) -- Liam Johns was born 10 weeks early, weighing only 4 pounds, to adoring parents in Citrus Heights, Calif. He was a "happy little guy," says his mom, Nicola, reflecting on the baby boy who grew quickly to a solid 24 pounds before his death at 9 months in a faulty drop-side crib.
Now, more than five years after Liam's death, the government plans to vote Wednesday to ban the manufacture, sale and resale of drop-side cribs, which have a side rail that can be raised and lowered to allow parents to more easily lift a baby from the crib. The new standard, likely to take effect in June, would also outlaw drop-sides at hotels and eventually childcare facilities.
Liam's mom says she's pleased something is finally being done.
"It gives us a sense of peace," said 29-year-old Nicola Johns in an Associated Press interview. "I'll be able to sleep a little easier now, knowing a chapter has been closed."
Around for decades, drop-side cribs have come under scrutiny in recent years because of malfunctioning hardware, sometimes cheaper plastics, or misassembly problems that can lead to the drop-side rail partially detaching from the crib. When that happens, it can create a dangerous "V''-like gap between the mattress and side rail where a baby can get caught and suffocate or strangle.
That is how Nicola Johns found Liam one morning in April 2005 -- hanging, with his head trapped between the side rail and the mattress. Somehow, she says, the side rail detached overnight and his little body slipped feet-first through the gap that formed.
In all, drop-side cribs have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000 and are suspected in another 14 infant fatalities. In the past five years, more than 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled, including cribs from Evenflo, Delta Enterprise Corp., and Pottery Barn Kids.
Liam Johns was in a Simplicity crib. His mom says it took a fight to get the manufacturer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall cribs like his. Two years after Liam's death and the deaths of two other children, Simplicity agreed to a recall.
Another significant part of the new standard that CPSC plans to vote on this week is more rigorous safety testing for cribs. The tougher testing would require moving the crib and applying forces that would more accurately mimic a child in a crib.
"They are not just lying down sleeping," says safety advocate Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger in Chicago. "They are roaming around it, running from end to end, shaking the sides. Even one loose screw can lead to a death."
Federal standards for cribs haven't been updated since 1982. CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum says the proposed changes "should help usher in a new generation of safer cribs to the marketplace."
Legislation from New York Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Joe Crowley also backed a drop-side ban.
Most cribs being sold today already have four fixed sides. Amid increasing problems with drop-sides, crib makers started phasing out the cribs in the last couple of years. And late last year, the organization that sets voluntary industry standards, ASTM International, approved a drop-side ban.
Many parents, however, still have drop-sides in their homes. They can also be found at secondhand stores and on Amazon.com.
Parents who are using drop-side cribs are advised to check the hardware on the cribs to be certain it's working properly and to make sure their crib has not been recalled. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which represents over 90 percent of the crib industry, says properly assembled drop-sides that haven't been recalled can be safely used.
For adults who are shorter in stature and prefer the drop-side, some manufacturers are considering a small 4-inch gate on one side of the crib that could fold down, allowing parents a little help plucking a child from the crib.