Parents Sue Kratom Company After Son Dies in Car Accident; Coroner Fought to Keep Autopsy Secret

Parents in Chester County, PA are suing kratom distributor SoCal Herbal Remedies. Their son, Caleb Sturgis, died in a car accident in 2018. He was 25. The Chester County Coroner ruled the cause of death “acute mitragynine intoxication”.

In the typical sensationalist reporting, stretching itself out of context, ignoring the blaring questions raised by this case, Mari A. Schaefer acts as Drug War stenographer in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Noted in this article as well: Scott Sturgis, Caleb’s father, works for the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Sturgis was driving to work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Chester County when his car struck a curb and flipped over. The Chester County coroner ruled his death was from “acute mitragynine intoxication,” the active ingredient in kratom. No other drugs were found in his system, save for the amount of caffeine contained in a cup of coffee. Sturgis had been taking the supplement for an energy boost, his family said.

In the lawsuit, the Sturgis family contends that SoCal Herbal Remedies failed to provide information on the risks of using kratom and did not attempt to test the product to make sure it was safe for use

Well that opens a refrigerator full of cans of worms, doesn’t it? How did the accident actually occur? Was kratom really even a factor? Are deaths of drunk drivers from injuries sustained in car accidents ruled “acute alcohol intoxication”? Can I sue Budweiser if one of my family members is killed in a drunk driving accident? It seems to me that alcohol poisoning and a car accident caused by drunk driving are two different causes of death. Are we sure the caffeine found in Sturgis’s system didn’t play a role in the accident? None of these questions are answered.

Journalist Nick Wing, at the time working for the Huffington Post, requested autopsy and toxicology reports from the Chester County Coroner Christina VandePol. The coroner denied his request. Wing then filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. OOR granted the appeal, overruling the coroner’s decision. The coroner then filed to appeal OOR’s appeal, essentially forcing Wing to engage in a legal battle to access the toxicology report.

For some reason, VandePol doesn’t want the public to see the toxicology results. Here’s Nick Wing’s twitter thread about it:

I asked Wing if they went ahead with the lawsuit. He responded this morning:

Interestingly enough, Wing and the reporter who wrote the above Inquirer story got into a back and forth about the issue of the toxicology reports on Twitter back in November.

Schaefer did not respond to Wing’s last tweet. She clearly dodged the question about mitragynine levels. Why Schaefer is acting like the coroner’s press secretary is anybody’s guess.

The more that’s uncovered about this tragic case, the more it seems like a family being misled by those with a Drug War mentality. The Sturgis family certainly cannot be blamed given how new and unknown kratom is to the general public, the weirdness of the coroner’s statements, and the way the press — other than Nick Wing — are lazily glossing over important questions.

I’m not sure the grieving family even has a case here. The attorney representing the family, Robert Mongeluzzi, said at a press conference that SoCal Herbal Remedies “provided none of the information consumers need to make safe choices”. Making medical claims on kratom packages is illegal according to the FDA, so I don’t see how a company could be held liable for an adult man’s individual choice to consume kratom and drive. I’m not sure why an experienced Philadelphia civil attorney doesn’t understand this.

Video of the press conference where Mongeluzzi made this statement shows the attorney holding a bag of “White Vietnam” purchased by Sturgis. This is a white vein leaf powder strain, not even an extract. So until we can see the coroner’s report it’s unclear how much mitragynine was in Sturgis’s system.

What makes this case even weaker, from a different angle, is social media posts exist where Caleb Sturgis talked about taking so much kava that he couldn’t stand, and also abusing the antidepressant tianeptine.

Unfortunately for the family’s case, this seems to show that Sturgis knew exactly what “overboard” meant for him, and deliberately went there with multiple substances in the past. Whether the car accident has to do with any substance at all is impossible to determine without a toxicology report and analysis of how the accident occurred. People have deadly car accidents all the time that don’t involve substance use.

One positive result of the case is the trial hopefully will force VandePol to release the autopsy and toxicology reports to the public, as Nick Wing pointed out recently.

90 thoughts on “Parents Sue Kratom Company After Son Dies in Car Accident; Coroner Fought to Keep Autopsy Secret”

  1. This whole issue stinks. Yes, it is sad that a young man passed away.
    If you look at his posts he obviously had been using it before and knew his limits. It isn’t like he just went to the gas station and bought a bottle, took a few pills, and then suddenly died causing him to crash his car .
    So let’s sue the manufacturer, then you can sue the store that sold it to him, and then help the anti-kratom groups to push their agenda further.
    Maybe we can all sue the coffee companies for using too much caffeine and having it lead to heart failure. Maybe there needs to be a warning on every single cup of coffee you buy.
    Let’s sue all the alcohol companies for people getting cirrhosis of the liver or kidney failure.
    Maybe we can sue the doctors who over prescribed Xanax and Vicodin for thirty some years for people overdosing on them.
    Either the family is trying to blame anyone except for their child for his death, they are money hungry, or they are grieving and need a cause to latch onto.

    Yes it sucks that he died and I feel bad for his family but it happens every day with or without substances natural or synthetic it’s a part of life and shit happens.

    Again I feel that the kids posts regarding him experimenting with cava and cradle them and who knows what other drugs show that he knew what he was doing and he knew his bodies limits with these particular natural substances and most likely took too much. I worked in the vitamin industry for over 10 years and the FDA only wants to help out big pharmaceutical companies and they want to block anything natural because it’s all about money and not helping anyone.
    As far as I know about Pennsylvania there is a huge opiate epidemic that they’re not even addressing. I know many people that have overdosed and I want to say there’s only a few methadone clinics in the entire state.

    Don’t quote me on the last part but this is what I’ve heard from quite a few of people that have needed medication to help get them off of opiates and basically don’t have access to that.

    The whole thing just sounds fishy and I’m not slagging the parents but I would hope they would want to get to the bottom of what actually happened to their child and not just immediately try to blame the company who makes the product as opposed to blaming someone for possibly overdoing it. We all know you can overdo it on anything and shit happens.

    It is the same as people not knowing anything about vaping and trying to ban that because kids are vaping. There’s always somebody with an agenda. Just like big tobacco companies being terrified that people are vaping instead of buying cigarettes so they scare people into spreading the “kids are doing it because they think it’s cool“ BS. Kids are going to do what they’re not supposed to do whether it’s smoke a cigarette or vape or take illegal drugs or take over-the-counter supplements. Nobody wants to take responsibility for themselves and they want to blame everybody else.
    I started smoking when I was 15 and not because everyone was doing it it was because I started doing it, I thought I looked cool to myself, and then I got addicted to it.

    I didn’t blame the packages of camels or smoking on TV for me smoking.

    I’ve been vaping for over 4 1/2 years which has helped me quit smoking and personally I think it looks really stupid to vape than it does to smoke.
    If I were a kid now I probably wouldn’t vape and I probably would smoke cigarettes.

    We are in this wonderful new society of nobody taking responsibility for themselves and blaming everything and everybody else for what we choose to do.

    Kratom -like vaping -has helped a lot of people not use or abuse hard-core substances.

    What people don’t know terrifies them and then they jump on the bandwagon because they need to blame something else besides their children or themselves and they are too lazy and self-absorbed to actually research anything because it’s easier to watch the news and to listen to scare tactics then it is to deal with reality.

    Sorry for the long post but it’s stuff like this that irritates me.

  2. I love what you said, Rebecca! I am not sure that there would be anyway for the coroner to know if Sturgis died prior to the car crashing, however I highly doubt that is the cause. It makes me think of all the people that essentially die from alcoholism but on their death certificates the cause is “liver failure”, “heart attack”, kidney failure”, etc. So, clearly this coroner has an agenda along with the reporter and most likely the family! It’s sad that they are using this troubled young man’s death to try to make money. I do not think it has anything to do with the actual statement against kratom… it’s all about the money. Of course, maybe that’s just a conspiracy… :’>

  3. I won’t believe ANYTHING related to that coroners report unless I have seen the toxicology report. If what I’m reading is accurate, the coroner stated that the CAUSE OF DEATH was acute mitragynine intoxication…that means the wreck didn’t kill him or cause of death would be blunt force trauma injuries as the result of an ‘accident’ (manner of death). He’s basically saying Sturgis died and that’s why he crashed the car.

    The reason that journalist is acting as the coroners personal assistant is because she’s one of those fascist ideologues who believes it’s her right to lie and twist the truth to get her way. (It’s for their own good, I know what’s right and best for other people. I’m helping!!) She is an opponent of kratom usage, and as such has chosen to believe the lies and propaganda, and do no personal research on the issue.

    The sad part is there are plenty of ignorant people out there who believe it when somebody they’ve never heard of says something like ‘the forensic EXPERTS did not misinterpret the results’. HEY there are competent and incompetent people at every level. There are also liars and corrupt individuals who feel good about themselves for lying if they think ‘they’re helping’. Maybe they didn’t ‘misinterpret’ maybe they just lied!

    1. I’m with you Rebecca; this story is total BS. I take Kratom everyday and if anything I am more alert, sharp and focused. I take white and/or green maeng da and it helps with my fairly intense lower back pain and assists me staying focused and upbeat at work which is done all day in front of a computer and on the phone.

      Anyone that thinks that Kratom would impair your ability to drive has never taken Kratom, or is doing such a massive amount that they would probably throw up because they are over dosing. That’s not Kratoms fault. Aspirin can kill you if you overdose.

      I have been taking Kratom for about three years now. Same dose as always 2 or 3 grams at breakfast another 2 or 3 after lunch and feel great all day. Usually take a break on the weekends. ZERO PROBLEMS!

  4. So sick of people falsely accusing kratom just because it was in his system. Its impossible to have a car wreck due to kratom. People’s stupidity continues to suprise me.

    1. Same thing happens with MDMA, all the time; Not that MDMA and Kratom are at all on the same level, but they’re both psychoactive substances, and they both get a bad rap for “killing people”, when, in fact, neither by themselves has ever killed a single human being that I know of. I’m sure there are instances of people expiring from MDMA toxicity, but, like with Kratom, you really, REALLY have to overdo it, to the point of practically intentionally attempting suicide with them to get there. Of course, Kratom has the awesome built-in feature of making you sick as a dog and vomiting it all up before you reach toxic levels; And the fact that it is plant matter allows that to be possible, “digestively” speaking. Both MDMA & Kratom can kill when mixed with other drugs, but neither has any kind of pattern of killing by itself. It’s just a whole lot of lying by the FDA, DEA, and government in general to propagandize it all away. Which, ironically, is why so many people die of drug overdoses – because of all the pervasive lies spread by “authorities.”

  5. This is just ridiculous. People drink and drive resulting in fatalities every day, yet we do not sue alcohol companies. People are responsible for their own choices!

  6. Yup never mind the fact that he took something to change the way you feel and got behind the wheel that gentleman has nothing to do this. choices 🤔
    And mom are demonizing crate him never mind all the people that are dying from opiate overdoses and addiction they only care because they’re not getting money for it

  7. Their will always be someone that over does it…people overdose on aspirin..oh ya food..should we sue the ho ho company everytime some 150 lb overweight person dies of a heart attack…moderation people moderation…jz

  8. Nicholas V Soileau

    Even if Kratom was a factor in him crashing, since when can we sue cover stores for selling the alcohol that a person chooses to take and drive with? Ridiculous.

  9. I was on pain management for 7 years. The last Dr. I went to, Dr Kroll, Woodstock Ga. I was taking 90 mg ocycodone, 30 mg methadone. I never took any thing other than my prescribed med., 7 years. They piss test you before being seen. In April I went in for my appt. Tested, no problem. One week later I get a call, said I tested pos for meth, impossible, but that was it, dumped. One of my Drs before told me I couldn’t just quit, at my age, 72 and health I would likely die from withdrawals. 3 days of withdrawals, one more day and I believe I would have died. A friend brought me Kratom, never heard of it, but it DID save my life. Two months later I get my Medicare report. In Feb and March I saw where Dr Kroll had raised the drug test from 148.00 to 700.00 . Medicare denied it. In April denied again, I got a call and dumped. They either just made up the story about testing pos or to cover their ass tainted my sample. They’re not drs, they’re drug dealers. A Dr wouldn’t put anyone in a situation that could cause their pts death. They take an oath. I intend to sue for malpractice. I’ve been taking Kratom for almost a year now. No high, no addiction, no O.D. just helps the chronic pain.

  10. It’s sad they lost there son, but it wasn’t due to kratom. Kratom has been used for centuries and now the the FDA is involved, supposedly there have been people die. If you research it they were taking other things as well. The FDA and big pharma doesn’t want people off of opioids. They would lose to much business.

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