Kristopher Martinez took his 2-year-old daughter to work last week, something he had done countless times in the past when he was unable to secure a babysitter or afford daycare.
But on this day, a tragic accident happened: his daughter, Kaliyah, who was left alone in Martinez’s pickup, accidentally triggered the automatic window, which closed on her upper chest and neck.
Despite life-saving efforts by Martinez, other workers at the job site and paramedics with Durango Fire Protection District, Kaliyah died from her injuries after being flown to Children’s Hospital in Aurora.
“Nobody knows the guilt I feel and the blame I take,” Martinez said Tuesday in an interview with The Durango Herald. “But at the same time, it was a freak accident and I can’t take it back. All I can do is live with it the rest of my life.”
Martinez, 36, was born and raised in Durango. He has three other children, including Kaliyah’s 4-year-old sister, Arisanna, and two boys from another marriage, ages 15 and 18. But for the past few years, he said he’s essentially lived as a single father, taking care of Kaliyah and her sister.
About once a month, Martinez said he would take his daughters to work with him. Martinez works for Tuf 2 Top Trucking and Excavation, based in Durango, as an operator of heavy equipment.
While not ideal, Martinez said sometimes he is left with no other option than to take his kids to work with him, either because he is unable to afford day care or there simply isn’t any room in the classrooms.
“I’m basically a single father, and to pay for everything off my income is not doable,” Martinez said. “There’s a million people in this country, around the world, forced to take their kids to work with them because of the lack of day care and the affordability.”
All four of his kids – even his sons, when they were younger – loved to go to work with him, Martinez said, and see the tractors and people who worked there.
“It was something we did, and we did responsibly,” Martinez said. “It was always a comfortable feeling. You’re always more comfortable when you know your children are with you.”
On March 7, Martinez put his 4-year-old daughter in day care and was set on spending the day at home with Kaliyah. But Kaliyah insisted she go to work with her dad.
At a construction site east of Durango, about two miles from his home, Martinez left Kaliyah in his pickup and started prepping a driveway and doing backfill work. He was about 25 to 30 feet from his vehicle, he said.
The father left the windows down and car keys in the accessory position so that Kaliyah could listen to music. The child was left unstrapped and free to move around in the car.
Martinez said he checked on Kaliyah regularly throughout the day, along with the other five to six workers at the site. The last time he checked on his daughter before the accident, she was laughing and dancing in the car and eating a snack.
But about a minute and a half after he left the vehicle, his brother-in-law went to grab a water bottle from the car and found Kaliyah trapped in the window.
“That’s when he found her,” Martinez said. “He yelled my name and I walked over causally, not thinking anything, and he handed me her and I immediately started CPR.”
A call was made to emergency dispatch at 11:23 a.m. Martinez continued CPR until paramedics arrived.
Around 5 p.m., Kaliyah was flown to Children’s Hospital while her parents drove more than six hours to the Front Range to meet her.
“We got to Denver and the doctors sat us down, and I finally just asked, ‘Is she going to pull out of this?’” Martinez said. “And they just looked at each other, and then back at us, and shook their heads and said, ‘No.’”
An autopsy completed Monday found Kaliyah died because her chest was compressed by the window and she wasn’t able to breathe. As a result, she went into cardiac arrest, which led to irreversible brain damage.
La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith ruled the death as accidental.
La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chris Burke said the department is not pursuing charges at this time.
“This was accidental because both windows were open and the father was checking on the child,” Burke said last week. “If windows were up, that would be a different situation probably. It’s just a terrible accident.”
Kaliyah’s mother, Jessie Walker, who is separated from Martinez, said she hopes other parents can learn from the tragedy and prevent similar accidents.
“Think about the little things, the stuff you couldn’t imagine happening; it can happen at any moment,” Walker said. “Never take your kids for granted.”
KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit advocacy group, reports more than 70 children have been killed by power windows since 2000, “with untold numbers of brain injuries and amputations ... most of them to children age 3 or younger.”
Amber Andreason, director of KidsAndCars.org, said it’s rather common for parents to be close to the vehicle when accidents happen.
“Their child is suffocating to death right next to them and they have no idea it’s happening if they’re not looking right at them,” Andreason said. “The big message here is we just have to get parents to understand there’s no safe amount of time for a child to be alone in a vehicle.
“People think these are freak accidents ... and I’m sure they’re wonderful parents ... but that’s who it happens to. People just don’t realize how quickly and often these things happen.”
Charlene Esquibel, the mother of Martinez’s older sons, said the two remained close after they separated.
“He was a single dad, and I watched him struggle since the day both of his daughters were born to do what he had to do to make sure they were taken care of,” she said. “He is a great father.”
Kaliyah was a month away from turning 3 years old. Martinez said she loved to fish and spend time with her siblings. A fund has been set up at First National Bank of Durango in her name to help with funeral costs.
“Hug your kids every night, kiss them every night because you never know when they’re gone,” Martinez said. “You take everything for granted, but something like this can happen in the blink of an eye.”