PETALUMA, Calif. (KTVU) - The mother of a Petaluma woman who died as she tried to remove items from a donation box has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
Kaily Land, 30, was asphyxiated last year when the lid of the bin closed on her neck.
The wrongful death lawsuit claims both the operator and manufacturer of the bin are liable because they know the design is dangerous.
"She was a beautiful, giving, loving person," Darcey Kingsley told KTVU. "And I still can't get used to her not being around, I expect her to call or come knocking at my door."
It was police who knocked that November morning, to tell Kingsley her daughter's body had been found, wedged head-first in a donation bin on Old Redwood Highway North.
It happened after dark, and Land's body wasn't discovered until daylight, her legs dangling from the bin opening.
"She was 30 and she shouldn't be dead," said Kingsley. "And then I found out there were people who had died before her and nothing had been done, nothing had changed. The bins are made the same way, and almost take a person's head off."
Now Kingsley is suing a Bay Area non-profit that operates clothing collection boxes at numerous locations. The lawsuit also names the out-of-state bin manufacturer.
"You have to assume there's been many more close calls and injuries because not everyone dies when they get stuck," said Kingsley's attorney Scott Montgomery.
Montgomery said he has found reports over a dozen years, of more than 20 deaths in donation boxes around the U.S. and Canada.
The boxes may be from different companies, but have the same anti-theft design, that pinches shut when weight is put on it.
"A New York woman actually got her arm stuck in the bin, and she ultimately froze to death hanging from the bin," said Montgomery.
When Land died, friends described her as homeless and said she often foraged in the bins for clothing for herself and others. Her flashlight was found at the bottom of the box, and her bicycle was left leaning nearby.
"I don't know what she was doing there, I don't know, and it really doesn't matter," said Kingsley.
She describes her daughter as a free spirit who called and visited regularly. Kingsley says Land, growing up in Petaluma, was an artistic girl who loved make-up and music, and worked as a caregiver when she got older.
"She didn't have an apartment or a house in her name, but she did have a home," said Kingsley.
The Bay Area has seen at least one other bin asphyxiation in recent years, a homeless woman in Alameda. Canada has moved to ban the boxes in some places, after seeing a spike in such deaths.
Critics say any other product so risky would create an outcry but the injuries and deaths mostly happen to the disenfranchised.
"I think what you're seeing is these boxes hurt people who are on the fringes of society, and they may not have a voice," said Montgomery. "But here we have someone who loved their daughter and lost their daughter and in Kaily's memory, we can bring about change."
The lawsuit seeks a safer bin design and monetary damages. Montgomery says since Land's death, stronger warnings have appeared on bins, cautioning against trying to enter or remove items.
But he believes the language is not explicit enough.
"At a minimum that warning should be skull and crossbones, you may die," said Montgomery. "Because I don't think anyone would crawl in there and expect to lose their life."
Kingsley says whenever she encounters a donation bin now, she stops to wrap it in plastic "danger" tape. Her daughter died three days before her 31st birthday, a birthday the two shared.
"Losing a kid is the worse thing any parent can go through," said Kingsley tearfully, "and no one should have to go through this, it's terrible."