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Mother's Death Not Linked to Bed Rail, Officials Believe

An amended medical investigative report for Donna Sykes, who died from head injuries in her daughter’s dorm room just before the start of the semester, indicates she did not fall from a lofted bed, as indicated in the initial report.

The Aug. 30 report had prompted UNC housing officials to offer protective bed rails to any student who wanted them and to consider attaching them to every bed.

Sykes may have fallen when climbing on or off the bed on Aug. 19, according to the follow-up report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that was amended on Sept. 29, citing “further investigation.” The likely scenario was that Sykes was climbing up onto or down from the bed, became entangled in her daughter’s walker and fell backward, wrote Dr. Jonathan Privette, an assistant chief medical examiner.

“This suggests that she probably did not simply roll out of the bed but fell,” Privette wrote. The report suggested Sykes may have struck her head on a dresser six feet from the base of the bed.

Sykes, a 49-year-old Nash County resident, was staying in the Kenan dorm room with her daughter, Jesse, who had transferred from Community College. Jesse Sykes has cerebral palsy, and her mother was helping her become acclimated, family members said. After the fall on Aug. 19, Donna Sykes was on life support with head injuries; the support was removed the next day.

Following the incident, the department of housing and residential education ordered 800 bed rails to meet anticipated student demand. Since the accident, 500 students have requested bed rails. The housing department has released a survey to residents to determine how many students loft their beds and whether they would use a bed rail. That survey will be reviewed by the Housing Advisory Board, said Rick Bradley, an assistant director in the housing department.

Bradley said the board will make a decision about a possible policy change. The change in the report on Sykes will not affect how the department moves forward, he said.

“We’re going to move forward with bed rails for each of the beds in our facility,” he said.

Most campus beds come with two additional posts along with a stabilizer bar in case students want to create a loft by stacking their beds. Students typically create lofts with their beds to create additional space.

The bed posts the University provides have notches every three inches, so a bed could be as low as three inches off the ground or as high as 72 inches. At the highest setting, a student on a mattress would be just more than six feet above the floor.

Options range from including a rail with every bed, making rails mandatory or requiring students to sign a liability waiver.

“If we need to mandate railings, we need to make sure we have enough there,” Hicks said. He said stocking the roughly 8,500 beds on campus with a $30 rail, plus shipping, would cost about $260,000.

The housing department contacted students who live on campus on Sept. 10 to notify them that bed rails were available. Within three days, 200 students had asked for rails.


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