Local News

Autopsy: Alcohol Contributed to Beach-House Fire Death

Posted February 4, 2008

— A South Carolina college student had alcohol in his blood when he died during a fire at an Ocean Isle beach house in October, according to an autopsy released Monday.

The autopsy was the last on the seven fire victims to be released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill.

The autopsy showed Justin Michael Anderson, 19, died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Anderson's blood alcohol concentration was 0.29, and that was "a contributing condition" to his death, according to the autopsy report.

Earlier, the state medical examiner said six of the seven victims – Cassidy Fae Pendley, 18; Lauren Astrid Kristiana Mahon, 18; Justin Michael Anderson, 19; Travis Lane Cale, 19; Allison Walden, 18; William Rhea, 18; and Emily Lauren Yelton, 18 – had blood alcohol content ranging from 0.16 to 0.29.

All seven died in their sleep from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, said the doctors who performed the autopsies.

When the initial report on the autopsies was released in November, Brunswick County District Attorney Rex Gore downplayed the significance of the presence of alcohol in the students' bodies. Gore noted that one student killed had no alcohol and said drinking did not play a role in causing the fire.

Investigators believe that improperly discarded smoking materials started the fire on a back deck of the house, at 1 Scotland St., on Oct. 28, 2007. However, extensive damage prevented officials from definitively determining a cause.

Smoke alarms in the house activated, and six students staying on the first floor managed to get out safely. All the students who died were found on the second floor.

Six of the deceased students attended the University of South Carolina, and one went to Clemson University.


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  • DrJ Feb 4, 2008

    I hate it that anytime a person has alcohol in his blood, alcohol is a contributing factor to whatever went wrong. If a fire breaks out in one of those wooden structures, and I'm asleep upstairs - alcohol or not, you're likely in a nightmare situation before you ever hear, smell, or see anything. In this case, I highly suspect they don't want to blame beach type wooden construction. It could scare off the tourists!

    As for chaperones, the new law that just went into effect all but makes it impossible for adults to play any sort of responsible role in underage drinking. Personally, I can't afford to lose my license, so the best I could do if I had college aged children going to the beach is tell them not to drink, and then bury my head in the sand.

  • aclsman21 Feb 4, 2008

    InChambersBee -
    not gonna help.....do you really think they would still go? trust me, at 18/19/20 y/o, if i wanted to drink and hide it....i'd find the way!
    Or wait, is it that reaching the age of 21, becoming legal to buy alcohol, is that where we say ok...your free and independent now. As if at 21, i won't do anything stupid anymore.

  • aclsman21 Feb 4, 2008

    Crayzee, maybe someone had a fake ID. who knows?
    no such things as accidents? you've never tripped? or cut yourself with a knife preparing dinner?
    i mean really, does everything have to be blamed on someone? if it ain't my fault...must be yours....
    How do you think these families whom have lost so much feel when other people try to make a tragic event poster material for the "what not to do."
    7 people died....anyone who had anything to do with that night will never, NEVER forget.

  • Crayzee1 Feb 4, 2008

    "chaperones when college kids want to party at the beach if they are under the age of 21 and drinking is involved." are you advocating breaking the law? Drinking and under the age of 21 is no legal. Make no mistake about it, I am 34 years old and was as wild as I could be from 18 until about 28 years old. But I was always responsible for what I did, and when i broke the law, I paid my dues. When I eff'd up, I made things right. I just get tired of everyone shrugging off blame. What ever happens to you is generally your fault.

  • GroupOfPricklyPears Feb 4, 2008

    I hate to say this but it may be that parents need to consider sending adults or go along themselves as chaperones when college kids want to party at the beach if they are under the age of 21 and drinking is involved. Any comments?

  • Crayzee1 Feb 4, 2008

    I am saying there are no such things as "accidents" Calling something an accident is just a way to shrug off blame. All accidents are a direct result of someone no pay attention, taking an undo risk, etc, etc. There are direct deeds that someone at that house did to cause the fire. Sure call it an accident, but the fact remains highly intoxicated kids and a poorly disposed 'smoking material' does not equal a blameless event. It is no differenet then if one of those kids was driving drunk and ran a stop sign and killed people.

    look to the right--->
    My point is SOMEONE supplied the kids with alcohol. Those people or person must be held accountable for something. I mean it is still against the law to provide people under the age of 21 with alcohol. Or are we just going to chalk it up as kids will be kids?

  • thefensk Feb 4, 2008

    If nothing else this story hammers home the reality that no matter what safety devices you try to include, tragic accidents like this are going to happen from time to time. Yes, alcohol was a factor. Youth was a factor. Heck, smoking was a factor too. But most likely alcohol had the double effect ... contributing to the carelessness that lead to the fire and then it followed up with the no-or-slow response.

    Once you combine so many things, the root cause is muddled. Let the dead rest in peace and hopefully let others take the time to learn from this tragedy.

  • cocker_mom Feb 4, 2008

    I think it's reasonable to point out that alcohol had a very negative impact on their ability to respond to the smoke alarms.

    Immediately after this - there was a huge call for these large rental houses all to be equipped with sprinkler systems - like that was to blame. And the hint was that the homeowners or rental company, etc - did not protect the renters.

    If nothing else, this shows that the occupants bear some responsibility as to not be able to react to the smoke alarms and even though they were not drinking and driving - there is always some risk when you impair yourself with alcohol.

    A tragic lesson to learn - but hopefully it will open some eyes - we've spent a lot of time telling kids not to drink and drive - they probably thought they were doing the "safe" and "responsible" thing. It is good to remind kids of other risks associated with impairment of reactions and judgment - things like the "wrong hook up" to the inability to save yourself if there is a fire, sadly.

  • Here kitty kitty Feb 4, 2008

    Alcohol kills, and not just in car accidents. But this story will not stop the next party from happening. Neither will it stop the next death from happening. Sad.....

  • drnc Feb 4, 2008

    I think about all the times I acted without thought when I was a teenager. By the grace of God, most of us make it through that period of life when we "think" we're invincible. These poor kids didn't. My heart goes out to their parents.