Local News

Autopsy: Duke patient died of poisoning from common medicines

Posted December 21, 2010 9:56 a.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2010 6:36 p.m. EST

— A Duke University Hospital patient whose death is under investigation by police was poisoned by two types of medication, according to an autopsy report released Tuesday.

Cheryl Lynn Suber, 30, of Garner, had sickle cell anemia and was admitted to the hospital in October for acute chest syndrome. The autopsy report states that she was improving but was "suddenly noted to be unresponsive" and died on Oct. 5.

The cause of her death was initially labeled cardiac arrest, but the autopsy found that Suber died of "complications of combined oxycodone and diphenhydramine poisoning." Toxic concentrations of both medicines were found in her blood, and a toxic concentration of diphenhydramine was in her liver.

Oxycodone is a pain reliever, and diphenhydramine is an antihistamine.

Debra Carrington, Suber's mother, said she learned of the autopsy results Tuesday morning and declined to comment on the case.

"It's really difficult to discuss this right now," Carrington said. "We're going to let the investigation take its course."

Duke University Police Chief John Dailey said his investigators were reviewing the autopsy report. He said the investigation into Suber's death "remains active," but he declined to say whether it was still being treated as a homicide.

An attending physician at Duke Hospital initially asked for a police investigation because he was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Suber's death, according to search warrants filed in the case.

The warrants state that Suber's boyfriend, identified as David Bass, visited her room on Oct. 5, and as he was leaving, he told a nurse that someone should check on Suber. The nurse found Suber unresponsive.

Hospital personnel trying to resuscitate Suber found a syringe in her bed, according to the search warrants. The syringe was labeled "saline," but the liquid inside was colored and opaque.

Nurses, physicians and a hospital pharmacist said that they didn't recognize the liquid in the syringe and that it was inconsistent with any medications administered on the unit where Suber was being treated, the search warrants state.

Bass couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment, but his sister, Davisha McDonald, said he wasn't involved with Suber's death.