Tuesday, March 27, 2007

His Name was Jeffrey Warren

Robert Jeffrey Warren was born November 11, 1974, which made him eight months younger than me. He had an older brother and they lived with both their parents in Lilburn, Georgia. In late December of 1978 when he was four years old he was playing with the Colonial Viper from Mattel's Battlestar Galactica toyline. I never had the Viper myself but I've written before about how I had the Cylon Raider. The Viper, the Raider and two other ships in the BSG line hit the shelves in February of 1978 around the same time that Star Wars toys were arriving in stores.

It was this initial wave of BSG ships that were designed with the now infamous spring loaded firing missiles. The toys' packages described them as being intended "For ages over 3". I've read speculation that Robert's parents bought the Battlestar Galactica ships for his older brother. Whatever the case, with his brother nearby Robert put the shaft of the Viper in his mouth (which happened to be the missile firing end) and he pulled the trigger. The missile lodged in his throat and after about four minutes of choking and convulsing he went unconsious. His brother called his mom and she called the ambulance. At the hospital they removed the missile but Robert died of complications two days later on December 31st, 1978.

The ensuing 'voluntary' product recall and lawsuit are now legendary in toy collecting circles, most commonly noted as the reason for the cancellation of the rocket firing feature in the 1979 Boba Fett figure from the Star Wars 3 3/4 inch figure line. The other day I found this ad from November 28, 1978 and I thought about the lawsuit. I wanted to find out more about the person I previously only knew as 'the kid who choked to death on the Battlestar Galactica missiles'. It's kind of eerie now looking at the ad and knowing that when it was published, Robert was just another 4 year old probably looking forward to Christmas like anybody else. While I found the story awfully tragic, I wanted to know more about him because his legacy is the stuff of legends and his death probably saved the lives of countless children of future generations.

There are some interesting minor details in Robert's story, including how the coroner mistook the toy as being from Star Wars and that's what's listed on Robert's death certificate. Later on during the lawsuit the judge made the same mistake, which reportedly upset George Lucas. One of the lawsuits filed against Universal Studios by 20th Century Fox hoped to stop the manufacture and distribution of BSG toys. But if you think about it, without Battlestar Galactica the same thing would probably have happened to Star Wars (which Fox distributed) if Boba Fett got made as intended.

It's popular nowadays for adults who collect children's toys to bitch about how today's toymakers don't make firing missile rockets like back in the good ol' days. It's ironic to me when thirtysomething toy collectors complain that 'today's kids are stupid and that's why toymakers can't make cool stuff' because actually it was someone of their generation whose death instigated the change towards manufacture of less hazardous playthings. Robert would have been 32 if he'd have lived to see today. You can read more about his story at the Star Wars Collector's Archive.

UPDATE-He was not the only child who choked on Mattel's Battlestar Galacitica missiles, and I was amazed at the true magnitude of the casualties when I further researched the resulting Mattel missile controversy for episode 48 of the Podcastalypse.


Anonymous said...

A couple of corrections to your article. While his name was Robert Jeffery Warren, we all called him Jeffrey. Also, he lived in Lilburn, GA, not Atlanta. I know this because he died in my arms before being resuscitated by the paramedics.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Hi thanks for the corrections. I have fixed my inaccuracies in the post.

Anonymous said...

So sorry for your loss. Even after all this time, I'm sure it still hurts the same. Your "Jeffrey" has probably saved many children from the same fate. xo


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