Mother of homeless woman who died in Petaluma donation box files wrongful-death suit

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The mother of a woman who died in a clothing donation box in Petaluma in November has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the manufacturer and operator of the container.

The suit, filed last month in Sonoma County Superior Court, alleges the companies should have known the boxes are dangerous. Plaintiff Darcey Kingsley seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages from the companies.

Kingsley’s daughter, Kaily Land, 30, died in late November after climbing into the clothing donation box belonging to a California company called Recycle for Change. Land, who was homeless, had been trying to retrieve items from inside the container when her weight caused the door to pinch shut on her neck, police said.

The complaint named Recycle for Change, a Richmond-based nonprofit that used the box as part of its clothing collection business, and RPI of Indiana, the manufacturer of the box.

“The clothing donation box was dangerous in that people who attempted to get clothes out of the box could become stuck in the box, and potentially asphyxiate,” the suit claimed. “Recycle for Change ... were aware of this danger, or should have been aware of this danger, as there have been dozens of similar incidents across North America.”

Recycle for Change did not respond to a reporter’s requests for comment Friday. A representative for RPI of Indiana who did not give his name declined to comment.

RPI and Recycle for Change should have known the box was dangerous, because there have been more than 20 cases of deaths in similar containers in the United States and Canada in recent years, said Scott Montgomery, an attorney with Santa Rosa law firm Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery who is representing Kingsley in the case.

A list of media reports provided by Montgomery showed 22 deaths in donation boxes in the U.S. and Canada — most of them since 2016 — that were owned and made by various operators and manufacturers.

“They’re not all made by the same company, but they all run on the same premise,” Montgomery said. “They’re designed to essentially pin shut and then people can’t get out.”

Montgomery said that if there were a similar death rate with a product like a child’s car seat, government action would be swift.

“You have people dying across the country, and there’s never been, from what we can see, any investigation,” the attorney said. “Unfortunately, from my vantage point, it’s probably because of who’s being hurt. It’s people on the margins of society.”

Kingsley and other family members of Land want to see the design of the boxes changed to make them safer, Montgomery said.

“They want this changed in a way where this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” he said. “I think it’s a very hazardous product for people who are destitute, cold and end up reaching into these bins for a variety of reasons. And the proof is in the numbers.”

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @iambeale.

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