Questions about grease traps arise following death of 3-year-old

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Community members are devastated by the loss of a 3-year-old boy outside the University Avenue Tim Hortons on Monday.

It began as a missing child report, but that 911 call was soon followed by another call, saying the boy had been found. By the time first-responders arrived on-scene, the child was receiving CPR from a witness, after the child was discovered stuck and unresponsive inside a grease trap outside the restaurant.

Grease traps are plumbing systems that must be located outside any building with the “capacity to serve group meals,” including restaurants, according to Monroe County code. The main component of a grease trap is a storage tank, designed to prevent fats, oils, and grease from pan-cleaning and food production out of the sanitary sewer systems.

The grease trap at the University Avenue Tim Hortons location is located in an open area in the back of the restaurant. Police say the lid to the grease trap’s tank was not only made of plastic, but was left unsecured over the 2-3 feet diameter of the trap. They say the boy must have stepped on the unsecured lid, causing it to open up, and trap him below.

Frank Camp, an investigator for the Rochester Police Department, said, “The child apparently made his way outside [of the restaurant, and then] made his way on top of the grease trap. There’s no wall or anything he had to climb over. It’s just flat and flush with the ground and the lid gave way and he fell into the grease trap.”

Monroe County has regulations on grease trap maintenance. According to § 343-5 in the county’s Sewer System Operation Code, grease traps “shall be constructed of impervious materials capable of withstanding abrupt and extreme changes in temperature,” which could potentially point to the plastic lid of the involved grease trap being in violation of county code.

§ 343-5 also states that grease traps must, “be of substantial construction, watertight and equipped with easily removable covers which, when bolted in place, shall be gastight and watertight.” The unsecured lid on which the boy stepped was clearly not bolted down, which would have prevented his fall. No comment has been given from authorities on whether code violations have been found in this situation.

Police are still investigating whether the trap at Tim Hortons was properly installed. One local restaurant owner says he received safety and maintenance suggestions from those who installed his grease trap.

Blake Stewart is the owner of Pan-Cart, and he says his grease trap requires a key to open.

“Ours is locked. You would have to open ours to actually get into it, and the cover itself it pretty heavy,” Stewart shared.

Many restaurants like Tim Hortons use bigger systems than those used at Pan-Cart, but the owner says all grease traps must be cleaned every 3 to 6 months, and also pass inspections by the city.

Stewart said, “Guidelines as far as cleaning and maintenance of it [are in place]. ‘Cause they say if there’s ‘x’ amount of grease in the lines, the city has some way to test for it. And they will pick up on that, and they will come check out the rest and check out your traps. So there is regulations in place.”

This little boy’s death is prompting many questions about grease trap safety. Community members in mourning wondering why this had to happen have left tokens of remembrance outside the restaurant. Monday evening a teddy bear and a heart-shaped note were left behind, asking that this little boy not be forgotten.

Police are awaiting a cause of death from the medical examiner. This story will continue to be updated as the police investigation continues.

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