ANDERSON, S.C. — A 16-year-old Spring Hill High School student who collapsed in a classroom last month died from ingesting too much caffeine, the county coroner said Monday.
The official cause of death for Davis Allen Cripe was a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia,” said Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. It was the result of the teen ingesting the caffeine from a large Diet Mountain Dew, a cafe latte from McDonald’s and an energy drink over the course of about two hours, Watts said.
Watts made the announcement during a Monday news conference with Davis’ father, Sean. Watts said the teen was healthy and had no family history of a medical problem the caffeine could have exacerbated.
Davis had purchased the latte at a McDonald’s around 12:30 p.m. April 26, Watts said. He consumed the Diet Mountain Dew “a little time after that” and the energy drink sometime after the soda. Watts declined to name the energy drink.
EMS received the call about Davis collapsing in class at 2:28 p.m., Watts said. He was pronounced dead at 3:40 p.m. at Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge Hospital.
In addition to being healthy, Davis was known among friends and classmates for advocating against using drugs and alcohol, Watts said.
“Davis, like so many other kids and so many other people out there today, was doing something (he) thought was totally harmless, and that was ingesting lots of caffeine,” Watts said. “We lost Davis from a totally legal substance.”
Holding back tears, Sean Cripe implored parents to talk with their kids about the dangers of energy drinks and consuming too much caffeine.
“It wasn’t a car crash that took his life,” he said of his son. “Instead, it was an energy drink. Parents, please talk to your kids about these energy drinks. And teenagers and students: please stop buying them.”
The autopsy showed no “unfounded” or “undiagnosed heart condition,” said Watts, who was careful not to call Davis’ death a caffeine overdose. He added that Davis had “a previous history of drinking” caffeinated beverages but nothing that his family considered to be an addiction.
“A cup of coffee, a can of soda isn’t going to cause this thing,” said Dr. Amy Durso, deputy chief medical examiner for Richland County. “It’s the amount and also the time frame in which these caffeinated beverages are consumed that can put you at risk.”
Part of the danger in what happened to Davis, Watts said, is that caffeine and energy drinks affect people differently.
“You can have five people line up right here and all of them do the exact same thing that happened with him that day — drink more — and it may not have any kind of effect on them at all,” he said.
Dying from too much caffeine is “very rare,” said Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler, president of the S.C. Coroner’s Association. It’s so rare, he’s never seen it happen in South Carolina, he said.
“That’s the only one I’ve heard of,” Fowler said. “We haven’t dealt with it.”
Federal guidelines prevent the sale of energy drinks on school campuses, according to the S.C. Department of Education. Some schools have even pulled caffeinated sodas from their campuses.
A recently published study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that those who consume energy drinks end up with higher blood pressure levels for a longer period of time than those who drink just caffeine. The study was conducted on healthy volunteers between 18 and 40, after seeing the popularity of energy drinks rise with emergency room visits and deaths.
A 2015 Mayo Clinic study also found that one energy drink can increase the blood pressure of healthy young adults as well as stress hormone levels that also can raise the risk of cardiovascular events. The study, whose participants had an average age of 29, suggested that asking about energy drink consumption should become part of a physician’s routine.
Energy drinks vs. caffeine
Studies have revealed energy drinks impact the body differently
One found that the blood pressure of energy-drink consumers remained “significantly elevated” by the time the blood pressure of caffeinated-water drinkers had returned to normal.
The other found energy drinks elevated the blood pressure and stress hormone levels of healthy young adults, raising concerns of an increased risk for cardiovascular events.
Both studies noted the combination of other stimulants, like taurine and guarana, in addition to caffeine in energy drinks.