Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

August 15, 2013

M.E. amends autopsy in PK Lake drowning

High concentrations of carbon monoxide and alcohol found in Lindsey Culver’s body


Mineral Wells Index

— By CLINT FOSTER



POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE – Drowning is always a danger when spending any amount of time in a large, deep body of water, but new details regarding the drowning of Lindsey Culver, 27, at Possum Kingdom Lake suggest other factors contributed to make this danger all the more apparent.

According to Palo Pinto County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Shawn Humphries, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner issued an amendment to Culver’s autopsy based on the toxicology report. The M.E. found a significant concentration of carbon monoxide (44 percent) in Culver’s blood, as well as three-times the legal limit of alcohol.

Drowning still stands as the primary cause of death, but the M.E. believes that both of these substances were major contributing factors in Culver’s death, too.

Culver was reportedly swimming from a boat in PK Lake on Independence Day weekend when she was reported missing on Saturday, July 6, just minutes before the traditional Hell’s Gate fireworks show. Brazos River Authority Rangers and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens shut down the event to conduct a search. They recovered the Lubbock resident’s body from 25-to-35-feet of water using side-scan sonar on the afternoon of Sunday, July 7.

Humphries said the new results from the toxicology report could indicate that the toxins in Culver’s system might have prevented her from full use of all of her faculties to keep from drowning. Typically, any concentration of carbon monoxide more than 30 percent in someone’s body becomes toxic, with escalating symptoms based on concentration from headaches and dizziness to unconsciousness and death. The amount of carbon monoxide in Culver’s system was not enough to be fatal, according to Humphries, but would have certainly effected her sobriety.

“This was something that we haven’t encountered before,” Humphries said. “There’s been some national research that more drownings are attributed to factors of this carbon monoxide due to boat exhaust. The boat exhaust sits on top of the water for a while, so folks that are in a concentrated area can maybe get more effects than normal. In lake drownings, apparently, that’s a trend.”

Chief Lake Ranger Robert Box echoed Humphries, saying in the 18 years he has been with the Brazos River Authority, he has never seen another case like this one. In an email to the Index, Box speculates how Culver might have inhaled so much carbon monoxide.

“In the Hell’s Gate area during holidays, there are usually a lot of boats that moor together or ‘raft,’” Box explained. “Many of these boats have on-board generators for bilge pumps and air conditioners. These generators, normally mounted on the side of the boats, give off a great deal of exhaust containing carbon monoxide. As these generators continue to give off exhaust, the carbon monoxide hovers just above the water. When the occupants of these boats swim around or under these boats, they are breathing in the carbon monoxide.  Many people don’t know that breathing in this gas can be life threatening,” Box explained.

Humphries mentioned another noteworthy danger concerning carbon monoxide and boating. He said, according to a lake ranger, people pulling water toys, such as tubes, skis or a wake board, need to be especially mindful of the effects of breathing too much carbon monoxide.

Humphries explained that when someone idles their boat in neutral while they pull whoever was riding the toy back to the boat, that person in the water is breathing copious amounts of boat exhaust – carbon monoxide. He said parents should be especially careful when doing this with children, who succumb to toxicity due to their size much quicker than adults.

As for the case of Culver, Humphries said the presence of so much alcohol and carbon monoxide, combined with the fact that she was not wearing a life jacket, was a essentially recipe for disaster. Box said, on behalf of the BRA, that many on-water accidents can be avoided by following safety procedures, including having a designated driver when alcohol is consumed.

Humphries also stressed the importance of always wearing a life jacket when around deep water.

“Any time you’re in the water, wear the life jacket. It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Any and all of our unfortunate drownings here at PK could have been prevented with a life preserver. Period. Including Miss Culver; she’d still be here. Even if she would have succumbed to one of the other factors, she wouldn’t have submerged. Someone would have found her. You can’t be too cautious.”

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