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 โ€œacute mitragynine intoxication,โ€ 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 โ€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. Melissa

    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. Steve Kasian

      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.”

  2. Jamie

    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!

  3. John0240

    Iโ€™ve got a few lawsuits for alcohol companies

  4. Therese

    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 ๐Ÿค”
    And mom are demonizing crate him never mind all the people that are dying from opiate overdoses and addiction they only care because theyโ€™re not getting money for it

  5. Jim

    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

  6. paul ngugi

    i will sue modello and bud light as well….i crashed in the road๐Ÿ˜Ÿ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

  7. 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.

    1. Nicholas V Soileau

      *Corner stores

  8. Ronald Bookland

    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.

  9. Paul Childers

    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.

  10. Agni Hilum

    Inebriated death is the responsibility of the partaker under nearly all circumstances. He was the only stupid human responsible for putting him self in a state where he may not be able to drive safely. Any drug, pharmaceuticals and also most vitamins, can be OD’d on. Seldom deadly. Knowing how people use kratom at first, it’s safe to say that people all around would be dropping off the planet due to some oops. Question then is, who’s paying this coroner’s office? To suggest, in very clear terms, that he died while driving… then wrecked, is extremely negligent in an autopsy; and an almost impossible task to perform. He’d wreck long before cessation of oxygen to brain. Ten minutes after which, true death occurs. How many people need autopsies who were torn apart in a car wreck, not sure? The coroner simply needs to be asked which occured first, in court. Lose the case and the mil she must’ve been offered. I never try it myself, don’t want to become dependent. It may be that, as with lsd and speed pills it takes a while to catch up with something new in this puritanical and simultaneously militant nation. So don’t throw out your needles just yet. No compunction against harming strangers! Damn conservatives.

  11. Nick Poplawski

    I Had a stroke when I was 27 years old all dr wanted to push pills on me for my life long injury to deal with it better. I’m sorry to say I went on the pills. 5 years later wanting to get off them I couldn’t. I finally was able to stop the meds but it was very hard almost impossible. Where was the government at that point not helping me but making me a drug addict. I turned to Kratom not knowing if it was going to work. Started at a small dose, guess what I’m able to work again so many drs told me I wouldnt be not working ever. Iv been on kratom for 1 year now and I went days without it there is no craving or withdrawals not even close. When I was on the pills I couldn’t go even a hr without them. So for all you people hating kratom are not educated on kratom and you government agencies, what the government not making enough money through pharmaceutical . Kratom has changed my life I’m working and life is great again! I keep praying to God that this leaf called kratom sticks around! Its has changed people’s life around thanks kratom!!!!

  12. L****

    People are ignorant kratom is not addictive nor does it make you high.
    So it’s ok for people on medical MJ to drive but not on kratom a natural herb wtf…

  13. Vanessa

    This was a well written story. I only wish that people weren’t so blind & see the disgusting lies behind this mess. That kratom is a blessing, a true wonder & why, why cover up a 25 year old kids death then lie like to his family what the truth is? No amount of $ could buy off my integrity like that.

  14. Wesley S Hall

    Kratom is a LIFE SAVER. The attack on Kratom is real. Blaming Kratom on a car crash is RIDICULOUS!!!

  15. Jaye

    I also buy from SoCal Herbal Remedies and have for several years now. I’ve never known ANY product they’ve sold, including extracts, to have so high of a mitragyne levels as to be dangerous, nevermind deadly, even at high dosage levels.
    Justin is a great vendor and I hope this lawsuit, a desperate attempt for a family to place the blame for their son’s death anywhere but on their son, doesn’t affect his business. He doesn’t deserve that. And if they’re able to sue him and win, well then, all of you with obese family members who have developed diabetes better get warmed up to sue whatever eatery your family member frequented the most, since by this logic, the eatery “caused” your family member’s obesity & disease.

  16. Tim

    Agreed Gunner!
    People need to look at what will be gained by big pharma if kratom is demonized as unsafe.
    People will stay on pharmaceuticals that keep them dependent which will then lead to buying more and more to combat the side effects of the pharmaceuticals themselves.
    Methadone and suboxone are just another trap.
    They are both horrible for your body and the clock is always ticking down to the imnement paranoia of getting sick if you dont have more.
    Only in extreme chronic pain cases are these nessacary.
    So many people end up on many other never endimg cycles of pharmaceuticals like sleep aids, benzodiazepines, anti depressants and ECT just manage the opioid.
    Kratom help me find the strength to get off of herion amd oxycotin amd God took care of the rest ๐Ÿ˜€

  17. Charles simpson

    Ridiculous, I’ve used kratom over two years and just don’t understand how kratom caused his death, i know better, it’s been a total blessing to me,

  18. Jim

    For some reason the reporter just happen to leave out that the young man had a heart attack while driving his vehicle, why would that be left out .? To me there is much more to this sad and unfortunate tragic than him cosuming kratom tea..If there gonna write an unfortunate tragic article and flat out blame kratom, tell all the facts and let’s be honest and truethful…you can’t ommitt what you want & cover up what you want to make it seem how your storie should go.Just Ridiculous and totally bullshit to put the blame when in reality it’s more the reporters brain and fingers that can’t seem to be honest and on the same page to tell the truth…

  19. J

    Cause of death is kratom? No. Cause of death was a car crash.

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