GOOSE CREEK -- Shama Winston Ford thought she was leaving her 9-month-old daughter in good hands. When she dropped her two children off with her sister-in-law in Sumter, she never imagined the unthinkable could happen.

But it did.

A few hours later, a car driven by Ford's 14-year-old niece crashed into a tree; six other children were aboard. Only her son, 6-year-old Shamar, was wearing a seat belt.

When the underage driver hit the accelerator instead of the brake and hit the tree, the baby was thrown forward and suffered massive head injuries. Two days later, Kelly Marie Ford was pronounced dead.

"It was a horrible decision," Shama, 26, said of her sister-in-law, who has been charged with seven counts of unlawful conduct toward a child. "As a family, it's been very frustrating and upsetting. For me, personally, it's like being in a dark room with all the doors locked and you can't find your way out."

Educating kids

Shortly after the accident took her baby's life Aug. 4, Shama decided to do something to quell her grief and help others avoid a similar fate.

She started an organization called Car Seats For Kelly Foundation (www.carseatsforkelly.org) with a mission to educate people that car seats save lives.

"It's not just about parents," said Shama, who works at Belk in Northwoods Mall. "Caregivers also must know that even if you're just going a few blocks, children need to be secured in the car. Ninety percent of accidents happen within 10 miles of home."

To get the message out, Shama is speaking at PTSO meetings, community meetings, kindergartens and any other venues where kids and parents are involved.

What really shocked Shama was the reality that the fine for not securing your child in a safety device ($150) is less than the fine for throwing trash out the window ($500).

"I ride around now and see so many kids that are not buckled up," she said. "People are just not aware of the danger. It might take me telling my story to make them understand the seriousness of the situation."

On Saturday, she will be at Northwoods Mall helping volunteers conduct car-seat inspections in an effort to educate people on the value of buckling up.

The car-seat check also will be held at Citadel Mall.

"We're really trying to educate the kids," she said. "If they get enthusiastic about buckling up, they will make their parents do it."

No excuses

None of this is easy for Shama Ford.

She and her husband, Reginald, who works at Bosch and Dillard's, thought they were leaving their daughter in safe hands. It was part of a kid swap so they could celebrate their anniversary.

The tragedy that followed has turned their lives upside down.

"Our family has been torn apart," Shama Ford said. "But we want some good to come from this."

People need to know, she said, that nine out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly. That there are people and places available to aid in getting it right. And that this is a matter of life and death.

"The information is available," she said. "People can't just use the excuse that they didn't know. Please don't put your pride before your child's safety."