Grandfather says 3-year-old Lexington girl climbed into bean bag, suffocated

Kylee Mills Simmerman, 3,  was found unresponsive in her home and later died at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital on Wednesday September 12, 2012. Photo Provided
Kylee Mills Simmerman, 3, was found unresponsive in her home and later died at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital on Wednesday September 12, 2012. Photo Provided

A 3-year-old girl found unresponsive in her Lexington home after being reported missing Wednesday apparently climbed into a bean bag and suffocated, family members and neighbors said.

However, police and coroner's officials revealed little about their ongoing investigations into the death of Mia Kylee Mills Simmerman, who went by Kylee.

Those who knew Kylee said she was a loving, bubbly child, smart for her age, who took particular pride in her bedroom.

"She would grab you by the hand and say 'Come and see my room. We rearranged it again,'" neighbor Marian Gulley said.

Just after 3 p.m. Wednesday, Kylee went missing at her home on Graviss Court, off Clays Mill Road near Man o' War Boulevard. Following a frantic half-hour search by police, firefighters, family members and neighbors, a firefighter-emergency medical technician found her inside the home. Two police cars escorted an ambulance to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, but Kylee could not be resuscitated.

She was pronounced dead about 4:09 p.m., according to a news release from the Fayette county coroner's office. The cause of death was listed as asphyxia or suffocation.

Kylee was the youngest grandchild of state Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon. He told the Herald-Leader his family is grieving her death, which he called a tragic accident. Mills said his family had received "messages from all over the state, and we want to express sincere appreciation and thanks for that."

"We are suffering here," he said. "We'll get through this, but it's not going to be easy. We'll just have to deal with this. ... She was a beautiful child."

Police and coroner's officials said little about the circumstances surrounding Kylee's death, including where inside the home she was found.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said Thursday that there were "no outward signs of trauma," but the coroner's report did not reveal whether Kylee's death was being considered an accident or a homicide.

No one was home at the tan, single-family house Thursday. A screen door hung slightly ajar, and a plastic bucket and shovel, a baby bottle and a small pair of sunglasses lay near the front stoop.

It was a stark contrast to the busy scene the night before. Detectives blocked off the home with police tape as they spent more than six hours taking pictures and searching inside.

Mills said Kylee's parents were his daughter Terri Lee Mills, a Lexington hair stylist, and Andy Simmerman.

"There was a police interview for about three hours, and it was quite an ordeal for Kylee's dad," Terry Mills said. "I think it's clear what happened. ... We believe she had climbed into a bean bag.

"The coroner's office called my daughter. They apologized for the police interrogation. They assured her that the cause of death was suffocation."

It was not clear what type of bean bag Kylee apparently crawled inside. Bean bags with zippers were at the center of a public health scare in the 1990s, causing manufacturers to recall millions of bean bags, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In a news release from 1995, the commission said there had been five deaths from suffocation and at least 27 injuries caused by zippered bean bag chairs.

"The children who died unzipped the bean bag chairs, crawled inside, inhaled and ingested the small pellets of foam filling. In other cases children choked while playing with pellets from unzipped bean bag chairs which clogged their mouths and noses," the release said.

In an interview Thursday morning, neighbor Marc Graviss said he thought Kylee was playing hide-and-seek when she went inside the bean bag. He described the death as a "horrible, horrible accident."

Graviss said he heard Kylee's father calling her name and saw him walking around searching for her. Her mother was at work.

"He was walking around frantic. He said he took a shower, and when he got out the child was gone," Graviss said.

Graviss said he and other neighbors fanned out and started looking for the girl.

The child's father told him he had looked everywhere in the home, Graviss said. About 15 or 20 minutes after police and firefighters arrived, another neighbor told Graviss a firefighter had found the girl, he recalled.

He said that he did not know the family well but that he always saw the child walking to the mailbox with her father.

"She was a very playful 3-year-old girl, happy girl ... she was always smiling," Graviss said.

Another neighbor, Marian Gulley, said she was a friend of the child's parents. She said she never saw Kylee alone; her parents were always with her

"That little girl was absolutely the most precious thing in their lives and a lot of the neighbors'," Gulley said.

"She was just precious. She was very special," said Gulley. "It's something nobody should have to go through."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader