Boy fell to death in ‘minutes’
Sammy Shpigler’s mom responds to criticism that he was left unattended
The mother of a 3-year-old boy who died New Year's Day in a fall from a Waikiki hotel balcony said her children were out of sight for just a few minutes while she was changing and her husband was in the bathroom.
"Our eyes were off those children for no more than two or three minutes -- unfortunately just long enough for them to unlock the balcony door, step outside and have my life and the lives of my children changed forever," Lauren Shpigler wrote in a letter to the Star-Bulletin.
"The children were not allowed out there," she said yesterday by telephone from her home in Montebello, N.Y. "We did not let them out there. Unfortunately we did not stress as strongly as we should have that they should not go out there."
Shpigler described the circumstances of the accident in response to a letter to the editor asking why Sammy Shpigler and his 6-year-old brother were left unsupervised.
David and Lauren Shpigler and their four children flew to Hawaii on Christmas Day and took adjoining rooms on the eighth floor of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where they had vacationed the previous year, she said.
On Jan. 1, while Lauren was in the changing area and her husband was in the bathroom, their children walked into the second room and let themselves out on the lanai, she said. The Shpiglers have said they believe their youngest son, Sammy, squeezed through the vertical slats on the railing.
Dr. William Goodhue, first deputy medical examiner, said yesterday he would not comment on how Sammy Shpigler might have fallen, but he will consider that question in his autopsy report, which should be complete in four weeks. The death has been ruled accidental.
The Shpigler family plans to set up an organization, Sammy's Spirit, dedicated to child safety, his mother said. She said key-locks should be installed on hotel balcony doors, and railings should be closer together or have a screen.
"It's just too easy for them to get out there," she said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure that this doesn't happen to anybody else."
Cynthia Rankin, spokeswoman for the Hilton Hawaiian Village, said the hotel complies with all building codes. "We do have double safety locks on all of our lanai doors, which are based on code," Rankin said. "As far as I know, I don't believe any hotels in Hawaii have keys on their balcony doors."
The railings on the Alii Tower of the Hilton are five inches apart, which met code when it was renovated in 1987. The current standard requires four inches, but building owners are not required to make changes retroactively, according to Henry Eng, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting.
The Shpiglers buried Sammy on Monday.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," his mother said. "It's heart-wrenching, indescribable. I'm very numb. It's still hard to believe."
"It was three short years but there are so many memories," she said. "He was such a funny, funny little boy -- a comedian. From the moment he woke up in the morning to the moment he went to bed, he had a huge smile on his face."