June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

On the afternoon of May 12, 1998, Linda Ginzel, a business school professor at the University of Chicago, picked up her 4-year-old son, Ely, at his Hyde Park preschool and continued on to Sweet Tots daycare to retrieve her 16-month-old, Danny. But as Ginzel rounded the corner, she saw a swarm of police cars. Thinking there had been a robbery, she made her way to the door, only to be told by a policewoman that she needed to go to nearby Children’s Memorial Hospital. “I have to go to the hospital?” she asked in disbelief. “It’s my child?”

At the emergency room, Ginzel was met by a doctor who spoke the simple words, “We tried everything we could.” Ginzel fell into the arms of her husband of nine years, Boaz Keysar, an associate professor of psychology, who had already been told by doctors how a portable crib at Sweet Tots had collapsed inward, strangling Danny in the vise formed by the crib’s folding top rails. “I was numb, but I also had this amazing calm,” recalls Ginzel, 40, who took locks of Danny’s soft brown hair as a keepsake. “I thought this was some tragic, freak occurrence that couldn’t have been helped.”

In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. And the realization that Danny’s death could have been prevented was enough to turn his grieving parents into dedicated activists who have vowed to do everything possible to prevent any recalled toy, crib or stroller from ever killing another toddler. “We’re talking about children’s lives,” says Keysar, 41, whose efforts have led to passage of a law to that effect in their home state of Illinois. “We knew we had to do something.”

Ginzel and Keysar’s unwelcome education began the day after Danny’s funeral, when an article in the Chicago Tribune revealed that Danny had been the fifth victim to strangle in a Playskool Travel-Lite Portable Crib manufactured by Kol-craft Enterprises of Chicago—a model that had been officially recalled five years earlier after causing the deaths of three children. At least 11 other children had been killed by similar products from various manufacturers, and there were as many as 1.2 million such cribs still in circulation. “We couldn’t not react,” says Ginzel. “My sense of calm turned to a focused goal.”

Within days of Danny’s death, Ginzel and Keysar, with the help of friends, sent out more than 5,000 e-mails warning parents about the crib’s dangers. That was only the beginning. The couple also learned that days before Danny’s death, state daycare inspectors had visited Sweet Tots but had not checked for dangerous products because they weren’t required to. “We were shocked to learn that even state inspectors didn’t have information about recalled products,” says Ginzel. “If they had known, Danny would be alive.”

That June, using $20,000 in personal savings, Danny’s parents established the nonprofit Kids In Danger (Web site Kids In Danger.org), dedicated to protecting young children from unsafe products. To that end, the couple testified last September before the Illinois House Children and Youth Committee, proposing a plan to eliminate deadly recalled products from licensed daycare facilities—recommendations that the state’s Department of Children and Family Services adopted on the spot.

Today, with a corps of some 30 regular volunteers, Ginzel, daughter of a U.S. Army master sergeant and his Korean wife, a factory worker, and Keysar, the Israeli-born son of an electronics technician and a kindergarten teacher, spend evenings and weekends handling fund-raising and publicity campaigns out of their Lincoln Park row house. On May 13, exactly a year and a day after Danny’s death, Ginzel received a phone call from Illinois State Rep. Carol Ronen telling her that the bill Ginzel and her husband had championed—the Children’s Product Safety Act, which requires that licensed child-care facilities be inspected for unsafe products and prohibits any business from selling or leasing them—had passed unanimously in the state senate. “With this legislation in place,” says Ginzel, “no other family in Illinois will have to suffer this needless tragedy.”

Ginzel and Keysar have earned praise from the likes of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chairwoman, Ann Brown, who calls them “amazingly courageous. They’ve done an incredible job in raising the consciousness of the public.” But the couple, who intend to-expand their crusade, see their work as far from finished. “We do this in Danny’s honor,” says Ginzel. “He’s still with us every day.”

Susan Schindehette

Barbara Sandler in Chicago

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