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 β€œacute 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 β€œprovided 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. D

    Yeah the media is lying,I use to be addicted to pills and weed. Kratom changed all that I’ve been off pills weed and rarely drink alcohol for two yrs straight. Kratom only gets you nausea or vomiting if you take like 10grams at once. There is no way he crashed because of kratom,maybe he was tired and or something. All the drunk drivers need to sue the alcohol companies then if that’s the case. It’s there fault if they want too over do anything (stupid kid)

    1. Dana Berry

      I agree, finally something we discover that works for a lot of ailments and the government gets there dirty most on it. Fake News!!!😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠 KRATOM ADVOCATE!!!!!!

    2. Mike

      Really weed? Lol

      1. Susan

        Seriously. There is no actual addiction to marijuana. I have smoked for 15+ years and have stopped many times for many different reasons, most important time was when I was pregnant just like you don’t drink etc while pregnant to not harm your growing baby. There is ZERO withdrawal symptoms or anything at all you go through when you stop or don’t smoke anymore. It is the safest medication I’ve ever been on for severe 24/7 365 nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain I have due to a rough and voilent gastric disease, Gastroparesis (stomach paralysis). We all need to educate ourselves on anything before we can bear an opinion

        1. Jake

          Just so you know “addiction” is not the same as “physical dependance. Addiction is the mental drive or craving while physical dependancy os when your body becomes unable to function properly without I.E. withdrawal

  2. GranniesRX

    So, I am awaiting my first shipment of Kratom to resale and have been working on a brand. I was told specifically, that we cannot list anything than an FDA warning on the package or website. And yet, suddenly, we’re supposed to list warnings because 1 kid who normally overdoses, has died while taking a stimulant version? B. S.

    1. Hillary

      There is specific information on this on the American kratom association website and the botanical education alliance website.
      Probably best to do your research before reselling a botanical.

  3. Tawnie

    Kratom isn’t the cause of his death. I use it for chronic pain due to a bone disease. I stopped using opiates cause I didn’t like feeling hi. Which kratom doesn’t do. It gives a little boost of energy. Energy drinks are stronger. But pain relief is huge. I’ll keep taking my kratom. Let’s see the results of the toxicology report. Kratom isn’t at fault.

  4. Sarah Moeding

    I went back and forth with the author of that article as well, just this past week. If you would like to see those transcripts, I would be happy to share them with you. It was a LOT of dodging and conjecture about “trends” and her constantly trying to make it seem like the deaths attributed to kratom were this huge deal.

    I mean, we all know this, those of us who use kratom and have done our goddamned research, but if four people have died from kratom, even if that’s true (and I do not believe that it is), that is *nothing* statistically. If four people total have died from kratom in the last few years, please, tell me how this is a national emergency in comparison to the 180,000 that have died from taking Tylenol?

    1. Sarah Moeding

      Let alone the, what, million or so people who have died from opioids, which kratom, from all verifiable angles, saves people from using?

      If someone is prone to going overboard on any substance, they are likely to do that, with kratom and who knows what else. This should not be held against those of us who use it responsibly and have had our lives changed for the better by it.

      1. Cindy

        All great comments!
        I want to try Kratom for pain
        but I keep hearing terrible stuff like contaminated with salmonella etc. What is a good brand & best strain for pain?
        Thanks & Kind Regards,

        1. Mona

          Maegna Da seems to work the best for my pain.

          1. Joel Ochoa

            And what would be the best dosification for that?

        2. peter liu

          Remarkable herbs always clean

        3. Amy

          You need a vetted bender one who tests after getting and before shipping.join some groups they took my pains after 10yrs. And wanted to put me on suboxone. No way that’s worse that the pain meds. Read the kratom bible and do tor research find vetted vendor in the groups. Been on it 8 months and I have my life back!!!

    2. Pratz

      180,000 people have not died from Tylenol in the past few years.

  5. Tina

    This is due to the government losing money for policing people, because slowly, marijuana is becoming legal. They want to make a profit somewhere, why not Kratom. It doesnt matter to them how many people it helps. Never mind the fact that you will start vomiting before you overdose.

  6. Daniel Wilbanks

    Sounds to me like the grief is lashing out at any and all the can blame.

  7. Cylus

    Kratom did not cause this crash. Ignorant ass media.

  8. Peter J Ledoux

    I used it and been disappointed by the lack of effect. Workef about thr same as Tylenol.

  9. Nels

    Someone driving under the influence is no accident!!!I wish the stupid media would stop calling them accidents when the driver was clearly impaired!

    1. Wayne

      You are so right. But it was a choice they made. If he had lived here should have been prosecuted.

    2. Dusty

      How about learning something about the subject before making a comment. You know. To avoid embarrassing yourself.

  10. R. Hesse

    My dad took almost six ounces of kratom by mistaking it for one dose I’d left him. He vomited for the whole next 24 hours and aside from saying he’ll never touch it again, he’s no worse for the wear. He has a heart condition and is still alive today. He’s 63. He had only one experience with kratom before and knew he’d only take it when he was home with nowhere to go. Good thing he didn’t have to do anything the next day, either. Had he taken narcotics, it’s likely he’d be dead or a vegetable if he survived.

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