Child's parents in seclusion as fatal gate collapse studied

Wynter Larkin, 3, was described by a neighbor as a sweet little girl.
Wynter Larkin, 3, was described by a neighbor as a sweet little girl.
Posted: July 01, 2014

The red-and-white striped awning above the Rita's Water Ice in the 2800 block of West Girard Avenue carries the chain's cheery slogan: "Ice. Custard. Happiness."

But on Sunday, the small shop remained closed as officers from Philadelphia's police crime-scene unit investigated what caused a security gate to detach and fall from the storefront Saturday afternoon, crushing a 3-year-old girl who was attending a fund-raiser with her mother.

Police identified the victim Sunday as Wynter Larkin of Yeadon. According to sources who know the family, the child was the daughter of Cheryl and Bradford Larkin.

The tragedy unfolded on the sidewalk in Brewerytown as 20 to 30 people attended an afternoon fund-raiser at Rita's for Omega Psi Phi fraternity and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority to collect money for scholarships and community-service projects.

Wynter's mother is an AKA sorority member who had joined the Rho Theta Omega graduate chapter involved with the fund-raiser in December and had gone to help out. She and her daughter arrived at 4 p.m., police said.

Shortly after 4:30, several witnesses reported hearing a loud crash and people began running. Police said the 2,000-pound metal frame and security gate came loose from the concrete storefront and fell directly onto Wynter.

Cheryl Larkin was screaming, and passersby hurried to help her pinned daughter, witnesses said. Several people managed to lift the frame and gate off the child and hold it up while one person performed CPR until medics arrived. Wynter was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 5:02 p.m.

Friends Sunday said the Larkins are devastated, staying at an undisclosed location and not speaking publicly about the accident.

"We believe this is a tragic event and a freak accident that we would never expect," Mary E. Houston, president of the 246-member Rho Theta Omega chapter, said Sunday evening.

"They need some private time," said Houston, who had left Rita's right before the accident but joined the family in prayer at the emergency room. "They are grieving. They are loving parents. We in the sorority are doing anything we can to support them."

The city's Department of Licenses and Inspection ordered the business closed immediately until the gate could be repaired.

L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said that business owners are responsible for the maintenance and care of roll-down security gates and that the department only inspects when it has received a complaint. He said there was no history of violations related to the security gate at the building.

Williams said the business owner is cooperating with the investigation, which is being handled by the police department's Central Detectives division. Investigators arrived shortly before 12:30 p.m. Sunday and began examining the building.

There was no answer Sunday afternoon at the Larkins' Delaware County home on a quiet street of matching brick twins with manicured front lawns. Neighbors said that the family had lived there about a year, and that Wynter was the couple's only child together. One neighbor said she did not know the family well, but described Cheryl and Bradford Larkin as kind and outgoing.

"They were a very loving family, and the little girl was so sweet," said the woman, who did not want to give her name.

The owner of the Rita's franchise, Kenneth R. Jackson, a member of Omega Psi Phi, declined to comment Sunday and referred questions to Rita's Italian Ice, the parent company.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the child's family," said Linda Duke, a spokeswoman for Rita's. "Due to the current investigation, we really cannot comment about the unfortunate incident."

The building is owned by P&G Property Development L.L.C., which Jackson and his wife, Rebecca, registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State in 2007.

An Inquirer article nearly four years ago about a business resurgence in that stretch of West Girard Avenue described Jackson pouring soapy water on the concrete and scrubbing the front of his family's then-fledgling water-ice business. Rebecca Jackson, an AKA member, told an Inquirer reporter then: "Part of buying the building was the gamble that this would turn into a neighborhood, a place where people could come, relax and enjoy."

Evelyn Sample-Oates, a top administrator with the Philadelphia School District and a member of AKA's national board, said: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family."


martha.woodall@phillynews.com

215-854-2789

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