Grease Pits Prove To Be Repeat Danger At Sonic Restaurants
by Kim Gebbia
WHITE HOUSE, Tenn- It appeared to be a freak accident at a Clarksville Sonic Restaurant when a 5 year old nearly drowned after falling into a grease pit. But since that story aired exclusively on News Channel 5 Monday, we've learned there's been more than one local child who has fought for their life after landing in a Sonic manhole.
There are three other documented reports of children, between 2 and 4 years old, falling into a Sonic Drive-In grease pit in the Nashville area. Nancy Linder from White House watched her then 4 year old granddaughter fall into the manhole back in 2007. They thought it was only a one time ordeal or a freak accident. But, then they saw the story that aired on News Channel 5 on Monday that told how a 5 year old girl from Clarksville stepped on the grease pit manhole and fell inside, nearly drowning.
"I thought she was gone because I couldn't see her initially I thought I have lost my baby girl," said her father, Michael Clark.
Linder said her heart sank when she saw that interview. She said the flaw is that these manhole covers are not secure and they are located just steps away from the outdoor tables in a garden area.
"The area that they had it in had flowers so it was attractive to her. She was 4," said Linder.
Another documented incident happened in 2008 at the Sonic in Bowling Green, KY. This time it was Penny Webb's two and half year old son who almost drowned in fast food fat. She said her husband had to reach in and save him.
"He pulled him out by his foot, my son had to go to a hospital and he had a lot of that stuff in the pit in his lungs, and he had to do breathing treatments," said Webb.
The incident report from Bowling Green Police states Penny Webb's then toddler was able to pull the lid off, which was not secured to the manhole.
"They assured us that they were doing all measures possible to make sure this had never happens again,"said Webb.
Yet four local children falling into one of Sonic's grease pits since 2007 hasn't seemed to stir any significant safety changes. Now Linder and others are demanding something be done.
"That needs to be corrected, and corrected now or somebody is going to die," she said. Both Linder and Webb are not seeking any type of legal compensation, they just want the outdoor eating areas of Sonic restaurants to be safer.
Sonic corporate office was only aware of one other grease pit fall; that one in Brentwood in 2007. They immediately warned all their drive ins about the threat and put them under random inspection. With the most recent incident in Clarksville they have again notified all drive-ins to "increase their focus on secure grease trap covers"
Below is the full response from Sonic's Corporate office.
"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to your additional questions about the incident that occurred at the Clarksville SONIC Drive-In, located at 2219 Madison Street.
SONIC is aware of one other incident of this nature that occurred in August 2007, at a location in Brentwood, Tenn. At that time, Sonic immediately sent guidance to all drive- ins across the system regarding grease-trap covers and the potential hazard they pose to employees and customers if they are unlocked or unsecured. In addition, SONIC added the review of grease-trap covers as an item to be checked in the unannounced inspections that occur at all drive-ins throughout the year.
Vendors that service grease traps are contracted by drive-in owners. The service schedule is routine and the service is typically conducted after the drive-in closes for the night. As a result of the late-April incident in Clarksville, SONIC promptly notified all drive-ins across the system to increase their focus on securing drive-in grease-trap covers, including additional emphasis on ensuring grease-trap covers are secured after they have been serviced.
We apologize to the family involved in this accident. We are deeply sorry for what happened and are taking appropriate actions to ensure that an accident like this does not occur in the future.
Any additional questions should be directed to SONIC's Communications department at (405) 225-5000.