Collapsible coat hooks need schools’ attention

SAFETY: The safety hooks were developed after the death of Myles Neuts at St. Agnes Catholic school in Chatham By KATHY RUMLESKI, FREE PRESS REPORTER

Becky Regier sat down at the kitchen table with The London Free Press on a February morning in 1998 and her world quickly changed. She read the story of 10-year-old Myles Neuts, who was found unconscious, hanging on a hook at St. Agnes Catholic school in Chatham. He died. Regier couldn’t get the tragic story out of her head. “I put myself in Myles’ shoes and I thought, ‘What was he thinking when he was hanging there? Was he calling for his mom and dad?’ I couldn’t fathom that happening to another child,” she says. Regier started her mission, then, to try to save other children from Myles’ fate. It’s a mission she’s still on, 11 years later. Last week, Regier, with Myles’ father, Mike Neuts, launched the Coat Hooks are for Coats, Not Kids campaign in London to raise awareness of the danger of coat hooks. The very day she read Myles’, story, Regier called her father and asked him to make a collapsible coat hook. “I always thought my dad could do anything,” she says. Her father believed a company would make such a hook quicker than he could. There are companies that make collapsible coat hooks, but at between $40 and $130, that few schools can afford. The London woman continued to hear stories about deaths similar to Myles’.

She wanted an affordable hook. So she went back to her father, Jim Henkel, and asked again for a collapsible hook. He agreed and invented the HenkelHook, which is patented in the U.S. and pending in Canada. It will collapse with a weight of about 26 pounds. The hooks are sold for less than $10 so they are affordable. This is about saving children, not making money, Regier says. The figure was also significant because Myles was bullied because of a $10 bet. Regier has contacted every school board in Canada about the dangers of coat hooks and her homegrown solution. She also contacted the City of London and officials are replacing hooks in arenas and aquatic facilities.

Twenty boards are now using the hooks, including Lambton Kent District, Avon Maitland District, St. Clair Catholic District, but Regier believes every board needs safe hooks in their schools. That’s because children are still dying and getting hurt.

Regier learned last week of a seven-year-old boy saved by his six-year-old sister when she pulled him off a hook. The boy was survived. She contacted that family in Boise, Idaho and is in the process of sending them HenkelHooks for their home.

Regier is disappointed more school boards are not using the hooks. The Thames Valley District School Board has said they have removed coat hooks from unsupervised areas. This doesn’t make hooks any less dangerous, Regier says.

Regier, who receives no money for her efforts, is calling on provincial Education Minister, Kathleen Wynne to make safety hooks mandatory in schools. Regier has also battled the Canadian Safety Council.

After a 10-year-old boy in the U.S. apparently committed suicide by hanging himself on a coat hook, Regier pointed out the story to the council, and the importance of collapsible hooks. The response she got was the HenkelHook would not have prevented the tragedy.

The response infuriated Regier and she blasted back. “This is the exact kind of mentality which continues to keep schools from ripping out hooks that can be used as a means to either commit suicide, hurt children purposefully or accidentally, or even kill them. Please understand your ignorance will continue to contribute to this preventable tragedy.” The Canada Safety Council has since agreed to work with Regier on this issue. When will the school boards and the province get on board?