“How does a child die at recess?” San Francisco family finds goal after 7-year-old son dies

The questions were endless.

“What kind of car does God drive?” 7-year-old Alex Quanbeck asked his mother. “What shoes is he wearing?

Alex wanted to know everything, the why, the how, but he had a specific and dedicated passion for Beastie Boys music, gas station snacks, rock crystals and sharks, the latter manifested in a necklace of teeth. beloved shark he got in Hawaii.

He was wearing it when he died.

Alex was playing soccer with friends during recess at his school in San Rafael when he tried to close a rolling gate to keep the ball on the playground. The portal wheels fell off the rails and the 300 pounds of metal crushed it.

The brown-eyed, sandy-haired little boy loved hedgehogs, sloths and stuffed animals of all kinds, the kind of kid who wrote at least a dozen Christmas greeting letters to Santa asking him for a tooth of a Megalodon, a massive extinct shark. .

It’s been almost 18 months since Alex’s mom and dad got the call every parent dreads. Dayna Quanbeck said when the call came that he was injured, she immediately knew he was gone, “like a mother does.”

On Monday, Dayna and Eric Quanbeck struck a deal with Mark Day School, a private K-8 school. School officials this week acknowledged their responsibility for the December 2019 tragedy.

The door had already fallen and nothing had been done to fix it.

“We now know, and deeply regret, that this tragedy was preventable,” according to the letter sent to the school community this week by school principal Joseph Harvey. “We are doing and intend to do everything in our power to prevent such a situation from reoccurring on our campus.”

Twins Ethan (left) and Elliott Quanbeck, 10, play with little sister Abigail, 2, while eating a snack at their home on Friday, June 4, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

Amy Osborne / The Chronicle Special

The Quanecks, who live in San Francisco, are committed to making sure no parent ever receives this devastating phone call. The couple started The Hummingbird Alliance, a safe school charity.

“From an early age, the most precious thing in your life is spending a lot of time away from you,” Eric Quanbeck said.

At home, for example, parents cut grapes in half, stamp sharp corners, and test car seat safety. “There is an assumption (schools) think about safety as much as you as a parent,” he added.

They want public and private schools, parents and communities to have conversations about safety. Ensure there is training, awareness and a sense of responsibility to keep children safe on playgrounds and in classrooms.

About 200,000 children visit emergency rooms for playground-related accidents each year across the country, about half of them in schools or parks. There are approximately 15 fatalities related to playground equipment alone. Most are related to falls from or onto equipment or equipment failures, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“It’s our goal in life now,” said Eric Quanbeck – to prevent even a parent from getting that phone call.

Yet they will live with a “permanence of pain”.

“Life seems a mess when you lose a child,” he said. “You just find it hard to understand that your life goes on and his does not.”

And there is lingering guilt, Alex’s dad said, that as parents and the community, you haven’t done enough to make sure he’s safe.

“I feel like we failed with him in this regard,” he said. “It hurts to know we didn’t keep him alive.”

Their memory of that terrible day is both vivid and fragmented.

Eric Quanbeck was on his lunch break and rushed to the middle of Columbus Street in San Francisco to stop a cab so he could get to the Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael.

Her mother, Dayna Quanbeck, was the first to arrive at the hospital and was ushered into a room with a few dozen doctors, nurses and first responders.

“They were all trying to save him and they were all crying,” she said in the family’s first interview since Alex’s death.

They were trying to keep him alive so his family could say goodbye to him.

Alex’s father arrived and collapsed to the ground. He remembers someone holding him, but he doesn’t know who.

“I was just crying in someone’s arms asking, ‘How does a child die at recess?’ He said.

“There’s no feeling, it’s just black,” Dayna Quanbeck said. “It’s just emotionless. You scream and you’re angry, and you’re sad and you’re panicked. Everything cancels out and it’s just a void.

The couple are now dedicated to the memory of Alex, the Hummingbird Alliance, and the upbringing of their two older twins, Ethan and Elliot, and their youngest daughter, Abigail, 2.

She was only 1 year old when Alex passed away, but still today remembers her voice because he read books to her every night. She asks to watch videos of him and wants to know when he gets home.

Family days are filled with reminders of Alex, how he said family was the most important thing. How his mother covered him with “a million kisses” to wake him up the day he died.

How Alex Would Say: “Hey, Google, play the Beastie Boys,” his mom said, a story that prompted their virtual home assistant to start playing one of the hip hop band’s songs.

She laughed. “There’s Alex saying hello.”

Twin brothers Ethan (left) and Elliott Quanbeck, 10, hold their sloth stuffed animals on their necks in their home on Friday, June 4, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

Twin brothers Ethan (left) and Elliott Quanbeck, 10, hold their sloth stuffed animals on their necks in their home on Friday, June 4, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

Amy Osborne / The Chronicle Special

One of their fondest memories is when Alex, a Nutcracker music and ballet enthusiast at the age of 3, sort of got his hands on his mother’s phone during a barbecue and ordered a professional quality Nutcracker costume head costume which arrived a wooden crate on their porch a few days later.

It cost $ 500 and could not be returned.

The devious and now-beloved purchase exemplifies the curious, active, and mischievous boy who was often the leader in fraternal issues.

“We called him the president of our fellowship,” his mother said.

Alex was also a cozy and loving child, once telling his parents that he wanted to take care of them when they were old, but admitted that he didn’t know how to cook.

He hesitated when his mother urged him to try green beans on a Thanksgiving Day, simply responding, “Do you even love me?”

“Remembering those fun things he did helps him stay alive,” she said.

Shortly before Alex’s death, his mother, who felt uncomfortable about an upcoming trip, told her sons that if anything happened to her, she would still be in. their hearts and whenever they saw a hummingbird they would know it was there.

Shortly after, Alex told him that if anything happened to him, he would also be a baby hummingbird, “so that I could be with you.”

A day after his death, his mother was buying shoes and socks for her sons and taking out three pairs out of habit.

She fell to the floor sobbing, realizing that she only had two boys now. It was early in the day, maybe 7 a.m. and as she looked up two hummingbirds were playing outside the window.

“We see them every now and then, especially when I think of Alex or just need to remind myself that he’s somewhere in the universe,” she said. “When I’m really sad, I just try to find it – a little sign, a little hummingbird.”

Jill Tucker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jtucker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jilltucker

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