State News

Alcohol Didn't Factor in Beach-House Fire Deaths, DA Says

Posted November 16, 2007 3:56 p.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2007 5:01 p.m. EST

— All but one of the South Carolina college students killed last month in a house fire at Ocean Isle Beach had alcohol in their systems, the North Carolina medical examiner reported Friday.

The local prosecutor said he does not think it played any role in their deaths, however.

Dr. John Butts said six of the seven victims had blood alcohol concentrations ranging from 0.16 to 0.29 when they died. The legal limit for driving in North Carolina is 0.08, and Butts said the alcohol concentrations might have affected the students' coordination.

Brunswick County District Attorney Rex Gore said it was common for students to drink at the beach. Gore said alcohol played no part in the Oct. 28 blaze, noting that one of the students killed had no alcohol.

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, died in their sleep from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, Butts said earlier this month.

All of the victims, except Yelton, attended the University of South Carolina. She went to Clemson University.

Six other USC students were able to escape from the burning house and survived the fire.

Investigators' preliminary investigation found that the fire likely started on the back deck of the house at 1 Scotland St., but because of the extensive damage, it was impossible for investigators to determine an exact cause.

It's possible, however, that the fire could have started from improperly discarded smoking materials, they said. There was no indication the fire was set.