A panicked mother of a rambunctious toddler who was choking on candy Thursday at Kilbourne Elementary School said she plans to learn what to do in future emergencies.
A relieved Felicia Jeter, 23, held 17-month-old Kaleb Price as she retold the harrowing moments Thursday morning when Jeter realized the toddler was struggling to breathe because a large piece of peppermint candy had lodged in his throat.
Jeter, the baby and Jeter’s 23-year-old cousin were at the school off Rosewood Drive attending an orientation session for next school year. Jeter has an older son who is a kindergartener at Kilbourne and will enroll in first grade next school year. The older son was outside with his classmates.
The cousin gave the fidgety Kaleb a green-striped piece of candy, Jeter said.
Kaleb began to choke and Jeter was frozen with fear. But someone called the school resource officer, Darlene Crawford, a 25-year law enforcement officer who once worked narcotics on the streets of Miami.
Crawford rushed from being outside with students and placed the child face down along her forearm. She began back compressions to force out the candy, just as she had been trained as recently as last summer.
“The candy was so big” that it wouldn’t come out as easily as did a Lifesaver that choked a 1-year-old Crawford saved last year at the same school during a 5th-grade graduation ceremony.
Kaleb was silent but his eyes were bulging, Crawford said. She could hear him trying to breathe. He did not lose consciousness.
The final compression broke the candy free. “The minute I heard him crying, I knew he was going to be OK,” said Crawford, a mother of seven children ages 32 to 14. “It was like, thank God.”
The Richland County deputy said she’s trained to know how to react and to do it quickly.
Jeter told Crawford how grateful she is during a news conference at the school. “I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be,” said Jeter, who once attended Kilbourne Elementary herself. “Thank God she was there.”
School principal Samantha Carlisle said Crawford represents school resource officers who do their jobs well. The deputy is always engaged with students and is a “positive presence” for them, Carlisle said.
Crawford, who was reluctant to stand before television cameras Thursday, seemed matter of fact but gracious about the praise she got. “Any event that they need me, I’ll be here,” Crawford said of Kilbourne’s students.