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. Before trying any Herbal Remedies, please research & educate yourself. Talk with other Herbalist & Kratom user..For two years I have been fixed from Kratom..Not only to wean off Opioids without with drawls symptoms,but the ease the pain I suffer from. In my experience, if take too much, you WILL puke until it’s All out of your stomach..You could not Smoke enough (I’m not aware of anyone I know whom would attept this) Kratom ,if it would even burn, to cause any effect at all.The propaganda about people “shooting up” this powder is absolutely false. It is not water soluble. The herb is comparable to Cocoa in it’s texture. Where some may try extract,& this is stronger,the effects of which would still cause stomach upset & vomiting.. I can only speak from my personal experience & opinions on the matter. I have however done hundreds of hours researching the subject, reading any & all subject matter on this subject. Anyone looking to Get High” will be disappointed, as that is not the effect.. Like a Really Good cup of Joe one will be energized,focused & mood lifted from energy.. I find some relief of pain,but in way is it comparable to pain killers. An everygreen tree in the coffee family,the leaves have been used as in tea for thousands of years in Indonesia. Not one documented Death in Indonesia.Not one death documented in US with Kratom alone in System..As with anything,some people may over use or develop a mental depency on herb. From my experience,and I don’t use herb on daily basis,the withdrawal from cigarettes, caffeine & sugar are much Greater than from this herb.. I am not trying to convince,or encourage Kratom use to anyone. It is up to each Adult to do research & use caution as with any new substance or herb one might use..This is only from my personal experience & research.

  2. The FDA is to blam here for the vendors not adding warnings. If they would treat it like it should be a supplement the proper supplement labels would have been on it! If a supplement label is added you can’t sell and vendors run the risky of being shutdown, raided and go out of business! FDA wont approve as an NDI. ( new dietary ingredient) You won’t warnings on kratom then sue the FDA!

  3. Interesting, if you read the bs post by his sister ( redacted pastebin for posterity – this guy NEVER touched drugs or alcohol. In fact, it was a random event of the supernatural that somehow got him “addicted” (protip: you don’t get addicted by not taking things). But here, by his own words we find admission of overuse and probable abuse of other substances. I highly doubt kratom was at all relevant to him crashing. It takes an absurdly expensive amount (unless you bought bulk international) to get anywhere near a “high”, particularly one that would affect vision and responses. As in, well over $150-200. And, taking that much would likely trigger a regurgitation reflex because that’s a lot of plant matter and stomachs are not fond of it. For the same price he could have bough enough Coke to get high for the whole week (assuming intelligent dosing).

    I’m interested in the tox screen too, and why this reporter (who probably got told to do this and went on some drugs ‘r bad mmkay spree) is suddenly trying to fight transparency. THAT’S YOUR GODD*** JOB AS A REPORTER LADY.

  4. Kratom ? Coffee? Lack of sleep too tired? Bad driver ? $ ? Maby his boss made him work too much. What company did he work for . Who was to blame ? Who ever has the most $ So the lawyers get the biggest pay check .

  5. Yep a lot of opiates death but they don’t tell you that they are from 90% Fentanyl and not opiates like perco or norco that are safe and help thousands with acute pain.
    These people that are in REAL pain are attacked. Now I guess we kratom users know what those people went though. What goes around comes around. Not everyone can use kratom, thank God I can but people with heart problems AFib can’t. It wont surprise me if this soon gets yanked off the market. its Big pharma, BIG Money backing all that up.

  6. I have been using kratom for over five years and yes it works. Never had a problem with it. I’m in my mid 60s and with chronic pain day in day out it is nice to know I have something that works. Occasionally glass or two of wine no adverse effects what so ever. And NO there was more to the accident than kratom. Texting perhaps!

    1. So are you addicted to kratom? Five years is a long time. What happens if you dont use Kratom? Just wondering if you have ever been off all substances.

  7. I have been using kratom for over five years and yes it works. Never had a problem with it. I’m in my mid 60s and with chronic pain day in day out it is nice to know I have something that works. Occasionally glass or two of wine no adverse effects what so ever.

  8. I don’t believe that Kratom was the reason he crashed but I do think it might be a slight chance that it caused it. There has been times that I have accidentally ingested too much and felt dizzy. So maybe he used too much and was dizzy and shaky and crashed. But you would know if you are not able to drive.

  9. Warren R Ebener Jr

    That’s like saying he drank a fifth of bourbon and fell off a cliff…the fall didn’t kill him the landing did…none of the three events were necessarily accumulative…but one could have happened w/o either of the other two…dumb asses…the guy took kratom and died in a car wreck.. end of story…so many possibilities are probably imaginable that one can only surmise that the ad hodem response is more than biased. Just saying…

    1. Exactly. There are so many lies out there, spreading around the nation about kratom and kratom related deaths…that it’s almost funny how obvious it is.

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