updated 8/5/2005 1:28:38 PM ET 2005-08-05T17:28:38

The mother of a 5-year-old girl who died in a coin-operated washer sued the machine’s manufacturer, saying it started up with the child inside even though no money had been put into the machine.

Rebecca Hope Wagoner was asphyxiated June 17 after the 30-pound girl became trapped inside the triple-load washer. The washer, the suit contends, “started immediately without the insertion of any coins.”

The washer requires 11 quarters to operate and will not accept coins until the heavy door is shut, officials have said. The door cannot be unlatched while the machine is operating.

Rebecca Billings Wagoner, Hope’s mother, had to use a rock to smash the door and pull her daughter out.

The mother “suffered extensive cuts ... (and) the horror of watching her young daughter die a violent death right before her eyes,” the suit said.

The suit, filed Thursday in Smyth County Circuit Court, is seeking $18.9 million. It claims Pellerin Milnor Corp. of Louisiana has had to replace more than 1,500 “failure-prone” electronic coin counters because they allowed the washer to begin when the front door was slammed shut, without the insertion of coins. The suit also names the owners of the Chilhowie Laundromat as defendants.

According to the suit, five children had become trapped in Milnor’s machines since 1986. One of the children was scalded to death, while rescuers were able to save the other children.

Jim Moran, general counsel for the manufacturer, declined to comment on the suit, saying he has not yet seen it.

Hope’s 14-year-old half brother has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in her death. Officials have refused to explain the details of his alleged involvement. But in a statement issued Friday, the Wagoner family said, “Our son would never have hurt his sister” and did not have 11 quarters.

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