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. 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.

  2. 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!!!!

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 😀

  7. 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,

  8. 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…

  9. I was on heavy painkillers for a long time. I am now on methadone and have been for over 3 years. It has completed ruined my life. I am now considering turning to kratom for help after hearing some of the things people have went through especially with opiate dependence. I feel like this could possibly give me my last few back.

    1. I was on methadone for 15 years. I got hooked on Vicodin from my doctor. Once he realized I was hooked he cut me off. I have chronic pain from arthritis in my spine that began at 28 years old. I’m 46 now and detoxed from methadone in July of 2017, because I thought it was causing digestive issues. I believe it’s bad for you because it’s synthetic. Even though I detoxed I have chronic pain. Kratom has been a blessing for me! You can do it brother! Just lower your dose of methadone SLOWLY. I was on 115 mg and it took 1-1/2 years for me to get down to 2 mg. Which was nothing compared to 14 years. It ruined my life also being labeled a drug addict, but what’s important is that you take care of yourself. Screw what other people think.Good luck Brandon! You can do it!

    2. Angela Sullinger

      Hey I also was on methodone I completely agree with you I was on it for 4 years and I thought I was doing great with methodone until I decided to switch and get put in Suboxone. Just a friendly word of advice before u go to Kratom try Suboxone yes after methodone you will go into withdrawal switching to Suboxone but if you can handle it your body will feel so much better you don’t get the high or euphoria your seeking like you do on methodone Suboxone had really changed my life I never realized how bad I felt in methodone until I started Suboxone. I tried Kratom it didn’t work out for me but that’s just me. Look into Suboxone first and see if it’s the right option for you

      1. I’m with you on taking Suboxone. I was on Dilaudid on and off for 12 yrs then had a 4 yr period I took 4 2mg Dilaudid a day. That became not enough so I started buying extra meds off the street bc the pain was so unbearable and burned so bad I couldn’t eat, sleep, or even think. So I detoxed with Suboxone for a few days then left the place no longer with the burning agonizing pain. I’ll never need to increase the dosage and I don’t deal with any “funny feelings” like pain meds do to you and I rarely have pain now. Same for me with things like Kratom, they just simply don’t work for me. I have to high of a tolerance to herbal remedies and the sort. So for me, I’d have to take a lot and then be worried I’d get sick bc of needing a higher dose than most people.

    3. I read your post and wanted to give you a little advice. I was on methadone, and switched to suboxone for my opiate addiction. I know quite a few people who have been able to successfully stop using both of those substances by using kratom. I went on it to help with other health problems after I had already gone to rehab to get off the suboxone. I use it for my neuropathy pain, depression, anxiety, and migraines. This stuff has helped me get off many other medications that I needed to be on for all these other problems. It also helps with my energy and it also has helped me lose some weight too because it has a slight appetite supressing affect. Ive read into alot of the different affects that each strain has and I prefer the green vein over the others but everyone is different. The main advice I wanted to ahare though is that if you do choose to try the kratom to get off the methadone, try to get down to as low a dose of that as you can before trying the kratom. Most of the people I know, if they were at high doses of whatever drug they were on, when they would try the kratom, it doesnt work all that well to relieve the withdrawal symptoms as it would on lower doses. I actually was having withdrawals from gabapentin, and didnt even realize that I could have withdrawals from that. But I got some kratom, and took about 4grams of it and within an hour felt 100% better! All my withdrawal symptoms were gone! This stuff really has helped me out alot and has saved me tons of money that I would of had to spend on all the meds I would of been taking to help with all the issues that just this one herbal supplement helps me with!! I just wish I had known about it years ago! Hope this helps you with your decision to try this, and have a wonderful life! ☺

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