I came across this bizarre news story last night on the way home from Tahoe. This 28-year-old woman entered a radio contest in which the contestants had to drink as much water as possible without urinating. Later that day she died from water intoxication. And she didn’t even win the prize—a video game system. The coroner had seen only one other death like it in Sacramento in the past five years—when a woman committed suicide by drinking too much water from a hose. (Who kills themselves by drinking from a hose??)
Water drinking fatal to woman
Coroner says Rancho Cordova mom’s bizarre death followed a radio station’s endurance contest.
By Ryan Lillis – Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 14, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1
A 28-year-old mother of three died from water intoxication hours after competing in a radio station contest to see which contestant could drink the most water without urinating, according to preliminary autopsy results released Saturday.
Jennifer Lea Strange was found dead by a family member in her Rancho Cordova home around 2 p.m. Friday, authorities said. Sacramento County Assistant Coroner Ed Smith said Strange’s mother and husband told coroner’s officials the young woman had taken part in a contest at The End (KDND, 107.9 FM) on Friday morning that was based on drinking large amounts of water.
The winner of the contest reportedly won a new video game system.
Strange told co-workers that she planned to take part in the contest before going to work, and that she was trying to win the game system for her three young children.
Smith described the amount of water Strange drank as “excessive.”
A preliminary autopsy “revealed no life-threatening medical conditions to explain (Strange’s) sudden death” and initial findings were “consistent with a water intoxication death,” according to a Coroner’s Office statement issued Saturday.
The final cause of death is not expected for several months, the statement said.
“We don’t really know for sure how much she drank,” Smith said. “But to get water intoxication, you have to drink a lot.”
Sacramento sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Curran, a department spokesman, said there would not be an investigation because “this is not a criminal matter.”
Strange’s death comes nearly two years after a 21-year-old fraternity pledge at California State University, Chico, died after a night of strenuous exercise and excessive water drinking. Four members of the fraternity later pleaded guilty in connection with his death.
Phone calls and e-mails to The End and its parent company, Entercom, were not returned Saturday. Two employees standing outside the radio station’s Foothill Farms building referred all questions to the station’s management.
Members of Strange’s family declined comment.
Tracy Beam, a friend and co-worker of Strange at the administrative offices of Radiological Associates in Sacramento on Expo Parkway, described the young woman as “selfless” and “totally devoted to her babies.”
“She had her hands in anything that had to do with humanitarian activities, diseases, save the Earth or children,” said Beam, noting Strange organized her office’s entries in an annual breast cancer awareness walk. “I called her a modern day Mother Teresa. Everything was about what she could do for somebody else.”
Strange told co-workers she was “going to swing by the station on her way to work, do the contest real quick and be right in,” Beam said.
“She didn’t have any idea of the health factors,” Beam said. “She didn’t know the extent of what that kind of thing can do to you.”
Smith described Strange’s death as “a very rare situation,” saying he could recall just two other cases of fatal water intoxication in Sacramento in the past five years. In one of the cases, a woman committed suicide by drinking too much water from a hose, Smith said.
Smith said Strange’s preliminary autopsy showed “some of her organs displayed signs of abnormal water infusion.”
Water intoxication — or hyponatremia — occurs when sodium levels in the blood drop too low because someone has ingested too much water, excreted too much sodium or taken medications that sap important minerals from the body. The body’s electrolyte balance is thrown off and the condition can lead to cardiac arrest, Smith said.
In some cases, water intoxication also can lead to a swelling of the brain.
Symptoms of water intoxication include a change in behavior, blurred vision, muscle cramps, nausea, weakness and headaches.
In the Chico case, student Matthew Carrington died Feb. 2, 2005, after a hazing incident in the basement of a fraternity. Police said the second-semester business student from Pleasant Hill and another pledge were forced to repeatedly drink from a 5-gallon jug of water and do push-ups, sit-ups and other physical tasks.
Carrington suffered a seizure while doing push-ups and later was pronounced dead at a Chico hospital.
One member of the fraternity eventually pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing, two pleaded guilty to being accessories to manslaughter and hazing, and a fourth pleaded guilty to hazing.