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Cause of in-custody death related to alcohol withdrawal: Pathologist

Steven Joseph Scott died from aspiration—the result of alcohol withdrawal.
November 04, 2014 - 5:29 PM

PENTICTON - The cause of death of Steven J. Scott, who died in a cell at the Penticton RCMP detachment two years ago, was determined to be a breathing problem related to alcohol withdrawal.

Dr. William R. Currie, a now-retired pathologist at the Penticton Regional Hospital performed the autopsy of Scott, 30, who was found in his cell approximately eight hours after he died.

Scott was arrested for drunkenness in August 2012 and was held in custody because of an outstanding warrant. He spent several hours in a drunk tank before he was transferred to his own cell.

The autopsy showed signs of alcoholic hepatitis, including scarring on the liver, said Currie. Scott’s lungs were also abnormal and revealed he had aspiration penumonia, which ultimately killed him, Currie said.

The aspiration is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal, which Scott suffered from, since he was left in the drunk tank to sober up after his arrival at the detachment. If the aspiration is severe enough, it can obstruct the airways, limiting the flow of oxygen, which is what happened to Scott, Currie said.

“It is concerning he wasn’t showing signs,” Currie said, or else the police would have noticed and been able to call an ambulance.

It is likely that Scott had a smaller aspiration (when a person breathes stomach acid into their lungs, common in alcoholics) when he complained of shortness of breath and wanted to go to the hospital earlier in the evening, Currie said.

Scott could have lived had he been taken to the hospital and immediately intubated, Currie said. However, there was no way a layman or police officer, in this case, would know what was happening, he said.

Scott did have a history of alcohol withdrawal and aspirations. He was admitted to the hospital in March 2012 while in police custody because he was having trouble breathing. He was clearly in distress and going through withdrawal, said Dr. Diana Fort, the Emergency doctor who treated Scott.

Tests revealed Scott was eight times over the legal limit of alcohol, making him severely intoxicated, Fort said. Scott told her he had been drinking 21 ounces of liquor and one bottle of wine every day for the last two and a half years, since his mother died.

It would be possible for a person who drank as much as Scott to suffering withdrawal within six to 12 hours of their last drink—what Fort considered a short time frame. Scott began to show symptoms of withdrawal in the nine hours he was in the intensive care unit, she said. He left without medical approval, and returned several hours later.

Scott had no recorded history of diabetes and his blood sugar levels were normal, Fort said, which ruled out an earlier possibility that Scott died of complications from diabetes.

The inquest into Scott’s death will continue Wednesday morning in front of coroner Larry Marzinzik and a five-person jury who will ultimately decide the cause of death and provide solutions to avoid similar events in the future.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Meaghan Archer at marcher@infotelnews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infotelnews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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