Coroner says student's death caused by 'totally legal substance'

Updated: May. 15, 2017 at 4:18 PM EDT
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RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Richland County Coroner Gary Watts says caffeine caused the death of a 16-year-old Midlands student.

Watts held a news conference Monday to discuss the results of the investigation into the death of Davis Allen Cripe, who died on April 26 at Palmetto Health Parkridge Hospital after collapsing in a classroom. 

"We lost Davis from a totally legal substance," Watts says. He determined Cripe died from a caffeine-induced cardiac event after drinking an energy beverage along with other caffeinated drinks.

Watts says Davis was healthy to that point. He did not use alcohol or drugs and there were no indications of underlying medical issues that might have been a factor.

"It was so much caffeine at the time of his death, that it caused his arrhythmia," he said.

But like many people, he was not aware of the risks of ingesting a high amount of caffeine and there was enough in a McDonald's cafe latte, Diet Mountain Dew and an unspecified energy drink to put a severe strain on his heart.

"These drinks can be very dangerous," Watts says. "I'm telling my friends and family don't drink them."

Cripe's parents also attended the news conference.

"Like all parents, we worry about our kids as they grow up. We worry about their safety, their health, especially once they start driving. But it wasn't a car crash that took his life. Instead, it was an energy drink," Cripe's father, Sean Cripe, said. "Now I'm a firm believer that God has almighty powers and could have brought him back. But I realize now he was simply calling one of his angels home. I know Davis is experiencing the marvelous wonders of heaven, but it still doesn't take away our pain."

Excessive consumption of caffeine, often through the overuse of energy drinks has been blamed for deaths other parts of the country. Watts says this is the first such case that he knows of in Richland County since he's been in office.

Experts also point out that energy drinks often contain other stimulants like ginseng and guarana which can add to the effects of caffeine.

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