'Naughty' toilet traps terrified toddler

SCARY PLACE: Bluff toddler Zachery Wakelin, with his mother Jessie and 9-month-old sister Maddi Wakelin-Burt, was terrified during his ordeal trapped inside a public toilet.
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
SCARY PLACE: Bluff toddler Zachery Wakelin, with his mother Jessie and 9-month-old sister Maddi Wakelin-Burt, was terrified during his ordeal trapped inside a public toilet.

Ten minutes felt impossibly long for a Bluff mother, whose toddler was trapped in a public toilet and doused with water and detergent during a wash cycle.

Jessie Wakelin said she was walking with her children on Thursday afternoon, when her 3-year-old son Zachery ran ahead of her into an Invercargill City Council-owned Exeloo at Stirling Point.

She was less than a metre behind but the doors quickly closed. An electronic voice then warned a self-clean cycle was about to begin, Ms Wakelin said.

Zachery began to scream.

Frantic, Ms Wakelin and a crowd that swelled to about 20 people tried everything they could to rescue the trapped boy, including trying to kick the metal door in and calling the police, she said.

Inside, Zachery kept pressing the button to open the door, but it did not work, she said.

He was trapped for two wash cycles, drenching him in water and detergent, she said.

"Because he was screaming, I didn't know whether it was hot [water] ... It was horrible, really horrible."

About 10 minutes later the door opened and her son, soaked and cold, was released, Ms Wakelin said.

"He just clung to me."

Zachery, who is autistic, had been reluctant to let her out of his sight since and, despite being toilet-trained for more than a year, now refused to go by himself, she said.

She wanted to make sure the same thing did not happen to anyone else.

Yesterday, Zachery said he felt frightened inside the "naughty toilet".

"It was a bit scary," he said.

Council building assets manager Paul Horner said the council had contacted a contractor, who would be looking into the problem on Monday.

In the meantime, the council planned to lock the toilet, Mr Horner said.

"We certainly have concerns that this has happened. We're at a bit of a loss to understand why it happened when the system isn't meant to allow it to happen, so we just want to find the fault and correct it," he said.

Two processes were meant to be in place to ensure people were not inside the toilet when it went through its wash cycle – there was a button to open the door inside the toilet, as well as a motion sensor installed to detect movement, Mr Horner said.

It was unlikely there was a fault with the button inside, as it had continued to work to let people in and out of the building, but it was possible the motion detector system needed to be recalibrated, he said.

This was the first time the council had encountered the problem with one of its public toilets, but in case of an emergency all had plaques on them with the number for the city council's 24-hour help line, he said.

The Southland Times