RELYING ON STRONG, SILENT TYPE

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It's kind of a new twist on riding shotgun.

When Barbara LesStrang had to drive from her Santa Barbara, Calif., home to lecture in Palm Desert during the April 1993 Los Angeles riots, her husband insisted she hire a chauffeur. She scoffed. Instead, she asked her secretary to make the drive. But what if you don't have a secretary at your disposal?

Ms. LesStrang felt uncomfortable driving alone. She decided to take action after she read about the Sept. 8, 1992, carjacking-murder of scientist Pamela Basu in front of her 22-month-old daughter in Savage, Md. The tragedy had a special pull for Ms. LesStrang because that date also happened to be her son's birthday.

So Ms. LesStrang, the 1958 Michigan state Singer Sewing Machine sewing champion, forged an 8-pound dummy designed to resemble a 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pound man.

That evolved into Safe-T-Man, a latex molded, polyfilled, 4-pound dummy styled after GQ models. She told her Hong Kong manufacturer she wanted "a good looking person but make him tough," recalled Ms. LesStrang, who heads an international bereavement group called AfterLoss. She has since sold untold units through Sharper Image and Hammacher Schlemmer and, beginning in October, Service Merchandise stores, at $119.95.

"The world has changed," Ms. LesStrang said. "We're finding out how many people are afraid. It is a way to fight back and not be victims."

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