La Crosse Co. Med. Examiner: Most drownings involve alcohol - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

La Crosse Co. Med. Examiner: Most drownings involve alcohol


LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) –La Crosse County Medical Examiner Tim Candahl said alcohol contributes to almost all the drownings he sees in the area.

"You don't stand much of a chance," Candahl said about drowning in freezing water. "Lack of oxygen to the brain – it just slows your metabolism down. You don't have a good chance of survival once you hit the water if you have any type of alcohol on board."

A toxicology report released Thursday showed a 21-year-old girl who's car crashed into the ice, had a blood alcohol content more than two times the legal limit to drive.

The driver of a January crash in Winona that killed four also had a B.A.C. two times the legal limit.

"Soon as the ice breaks, it's going to go to the bottom, you know. There's not going to be much time for anybody to get out of that car if they break through the ice," said Capt. Frank Devine of the La Crosse Fire Department.

The department has a dive rescue team that trains to handle water rescues.

In 2013, there were 22 on the books.

Ice rescue poses extra risk because of potential objects under the ice and the current, Devine added.

"They don't really realize how drunk they are," Candahl said.

More and more, he's seeing a mixed toxicology, where other drugs are also in a person's system at the time of his/her death.

Of the autopsy reports he conducted this past year, 50 percent showed caffeine in a person's system.

"My thing is because of the energy drinks, that just keeps them going and going and when they get to that threshold, they have no idea where they're at," Candahl said.

Candahl said he's going to study how intoxicated a combination of alcohol and caffeine makes a person. But it's because of an autopsy, he can see a connection.

Candahl does say the number of drownings in the area are leveling off because there are programs like Safe-ride and Operation River Watch that increase community awareness.

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