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Why do toddlers keep getting stuck inside prize machines?

Elise Solé
A little boy crawled into a prize machine at an Oklahoma play space and became trapped inside. Why does this keep happening? (Photo: EMSA)

A toddler who went missing for an hour at an inflatable play space was found trapped inside a prize machine.

According to local news station KFOR, Destiny Low and her two children, a daughter, 4, and a son, 22 months, were playing at Jump Zone in Oklahoma City, Okla., when Low realized that her youngest, named Dawson, was missing.

“I’m not the type of parent that ever thought I’d lose my kid in five seconds,” Low told the station, adding, “It goes kind of numb, like you’re just like, this isn’t happening.”

Panicking, she alerted employees who checked security cameras and confirmed the boy was still inside the facility. “He’s hurt. He’s somewhere alone and hurt, and that is absolutely terrifying,” she said.

It was only when staff shut off the blowers on the inflatable structures that a little girl putting quarters into a prize machine heard the boy’s cries from inside. Turns out, Dawson had managed to enter the machine through a tiny front door, big enough to fit his little body.

An emergency crew from Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) treated the boy who was dehydrated, lethargic, and overheated from exposure to the interior light bulbs. After Dawson drank water, cooled down, and was exposed to fresh air, he regained his energy.

It seems logistically impossible, but kids get trapped in prize machines all the time — and it’s incredibly easy to do so. Eighteen-month-old Colin Lambert crawled inside a toy machine through a door no larger than 10 inches at a Tennessee laundromat when his grandmother momentarily read a text message on her phone. A Florida boy named Mason squeezed his way inside a restaurant’s prize machine through the slot in which toys fall. And a 3-year-old boy from Ireland got trapped inside an arcade claw machine during an attempt to collect two prizes. All three children were rescued safely.

“Children get stuck inside these prize machines more often than you might think,” Lara O’Leary, public information officer for EMSA, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They see the bright lights and toys inside the glass enclosure and it’s too tempting and easy.”

In Dawson’s case, he opened a flap door on the front of the machine that dispenses toys and wedged his body inside, without being seen. The boy had crawled so far up that his entire body was concealed from passersby, including from the glass window.

Jump Zone and Low did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, and the manufacturer of the machine is unknown.

However, O’Leary says that flap doors are typically located on the front or sides of prize machines and getting inside is a no-brainer for flexible and curious toddlers. She adds that there’s no reliable way to track how often the problem arises because these emergency calls are usually coded as “entrapment” or “missing child” cases.

“If anything, it’s a reminder for parents to keep an eye on their kids at all times,” she says.

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