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

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 because she, herself, did not have the results of the toxicology report, only the results of the manner and cause of death. Why this journalist 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.

This Post Has 90 Comments

  1. Eve a la

    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. Aleatha

    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. Rebecca Smith

    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. Joe

      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!

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