Alcohol Poisoning: A New Record

03 Jan

We have a winner! A new blood-alcohol content (BAC) champion.

The legal limit for BAC in most states is 0.08%. Below that you get to walk and above that you get to wobble yourself to jail. In general, and this varies greatly from person to person, a level below 0.04 causes little effect, while between that level and 0.08 some loss of judgment and coordination occurs. This becomes even more pronounced with a level up to around 0.12 to 0.15 or so. These people typically appear intoxicated. If you go higher to a level above 0.20, you might be considered sloppy drunk. And a level above 0.40 can be lethal.

There is a term in medicine and forensics known as the LD50, which stands for the Lethal Dose 50%. This simply means that if you give 100 people this dose of a drug, 50 will die. In the case of alcohol this amount results in a BAC of around 0.40%. Anyone who drinks this amount of alcohol has a 50% chance of dying. Of course statistics such as this are only important to the masses since own individual level it’s either 0% or 100%. You either die or you don’t.

Enter our champion. It seems that on December 1, 2009, Marguerite Engle was found sleeping on the side of Interstate 90 in South Dakota. The South Dakota Highway Patrol stopped to investigate and found Marguerite asleep in a stolen van. She was arrested and toxicological examinations were done. Her blood-alcohol level came back at 0.708. Nearly twice the lethal level and nine times the legal limit in South Dakota. The previous record for South Dakota is believed to be 0.56. Marguerite shattered that record.

This brings up two points. The first is, you can’t kill a drunk. A drunk driving a tiny, underweight hybrid can slam head-on into a family of four in a massive SUV and the family will be killed while the drunk walks away. Happens all the time. Ask any ER doc and he will agree. Fortunately, Marguerite Engle didn’t kill anyone.

The second point is that poisons and drugs are unpredictable. What can kill one person may not kill the other. What can harm one person may go unnoticed by another. Obviously Marguerite can handle alcohol whole lot better than the average Joe.

Rapid City Journal Article


Posted by on January 3, 2010 in Poisons & Drugs


17 responses to “Alcohol Poisoning: A New Record

  1. Teresa Reasor

    January 3, 2010 at 10:20 am

    How can she drink that much and not pickle her brain?
    And would you really want to be known as the person who broke that kind of record?

    Hopefully they’ll keep her in jail. They’ve dodged a bullet both times she’s been behind the wheel. If third times charm, I wouldn’t want to take achance on turning her loose.

    Teresa R.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 3, 2010 at 10:30 am

      The article didn’t say whether her brain was already pickled or not but smart money would bet YES.


  2. Jo Vandewall

    January 3, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Might the cold environment have had something to do with her tolerance?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 3, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Not really. The absorption and metabolism of alcohol is more or less the same regardless of the environmental temperature. One other point—the concept that alcohol acts as a sort of antifreeze and helps when exposed to cold is a myth. You know the old brandy-toting Saint Bernard. The truth is the opposite. Since alcohol dilates (opens up) the blood vessels in the skin—that flushed look some people get after drinking alcohol results from this–it actually accelerates heat loss from the body through the skin. Rather than saving someone from hypothermia, alcohol makes things much worse and lessens survival in such situations.


  3. Camille Minichino

    January 3, 2010 at 11:49 am

    As usual, a very informative blog, Doug. And just when I’m thinking about a way to poison a character. Thanks!

    Camille Minichino


  4. Pat Brown

    January 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    The article didn’t actually say she was arrested. I’m wondering if an attorney could make the case the she wasn’t actually ‘driving’ at the time the police found her. She was sleeping and the vehicle was off the road. I hope not — I hope they arrest her and put her in jail, plus take away her license, forever if possible, but I am curious as to what happened in the aftermath.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 3, 2010 at 7:03 pm

      Since the van she was in was stolen I assume she was arrested.


  5. Chris Gruppo

    January 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    As a former street cop, I never saw a drunk driver get injured worse than the innocent parties involved. I’ve heard the opinions of many people who have said that its because the drunk driver is more relaxed. Considering the slower reaction time of the intoxicated person and the concrete nature of the physics involved in auto accidents, is there any medical reason that this position may be correct or is it just luck?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 3, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      This point has been batted around the medical world for decades without a real consensus. It’s probably a little of both—being relaxed and being lucky.


  6. Elizabeth Zelvin

    January 4, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Hi, Doug, this one is right up my alley. When you said she could “handle her alcohol,” you put your finger on one of the paradoxes that fuels the denial that still pervades our culture’s thinking about alcohol. Heavy drinkers who boast they can “handle it” as evidence they are not alcoholics are in fact admitting to one of the primary symptoms of addiction: increased tolerance. The stats I learned when I first studied alcoholism more than 25 years ago were that a BAC of .30 would put a non-habituated drinker in a stupor at best and .50 would kill him or her. And make no mistake, alcoholics who are still walking around with those levels of booze in their blood can and do kill people. One notable example a few years back was the woman who invented the concept of “moderation management” (as opposed to a treatment goal of abstinence for the alcohol dependent), who had a BAC of .22 (if I remember the story correctly) when she got behind the wheel and killed two people, one a 12-year-old girl, with her car.


    Elizabeth Zelvin, LCSW, CASAC emerita


  7. Linda Smith

    January 4, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Hi, Doug, This reminds me of the story about Rasputin. His enemies tried several ways to kill him before breaking a hole in the ice on the Volga River and dumping him in. Any comments on the Rasputin story?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      His death has always been controversial and packed with conspiracies. Some say he was poisoned with cyanide, some say he was shot, others that he was clubbed to death, and still others that he drowned beneath a sheet of ice. Apparently his autopsy did reveal enough cyanide to be lethal but some witnesses said he survived the poisoning and was later shot, clubbed, and tossed into a frozen river. We might never know the true cause of death.


  8. EJ Wagner

    January 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    And let us pause for a moment to recall the instructive 1933 case of obe Mike Malloy. The alcoholic subject of intense efforts by a group of homicidal investors in his life insurance policy, Malloy thoroughly drunk, was dosed with gallons of anti freeze, followed by pungently rotten sardines laced with strips of tin, and run over by a vehicle going sixty miles an hour. He survived all but recalled nothing of these events. He ultimately succumbed to a large amount of carbon monoxide administered through a hose placed in his throat…

    Not to mention the 18th century NYC coroner, who opined that the frozen corpse discovered on the street was the victim of insufficient alcohol-in the coroners opinion, a larger amount in the body would have prevented freezing…..

    EJ Wagner
    blog: ejdissectingroom
    author-“The Science of Sherlock Holmes”


  9. Melissa Sugar

    January 25, 2010 at 10:11 am

    This is a very interesting and informative post. I have fallen under the spell of your blog and cannot quit reading. I fortunately do not have to be in court this morning. I am a criminal defense attorney, in pvt. practice, but I was the chief assistant District attorney for nearly 20 years. It has been many years since I have prosecuted a DUI, but I have defended a few in my pvt. practice ( I generally handle major felony cass only). My last case was somewhat similiar to the facts you of your scenario-not in the ~DON’T KNOW HOW SHE ISN’T DEAD~.70 bac, but relative to the question of whether the accused can be prosecuted or convicted for driving, if not driving. In your factual sceanrio, it is my belief that in nearly if not every state, she would legally fit the definition of driving. A person does not have to actually be drving as in advancing the car forward or backwards, to be “driving” for the legal definition. The actual defintion in most states ( I am licensed in Louisiana and Florida & my husband in Louisiana and Michigan), in La. a person can be found guilty if they are driving or operating a MV. Operating a Motor vehicle includes something similiar to “constructive” operating. If the car is operable, meaning if the woman somehow managed to wake up-if she COULD HAVE OPERATED THE CAR, that is enough. Jurisprudence distinguishes each case on a case by case basis, but some variables remain the same. If the car is running, regardless of whether she is passed out cold in the front seat or the back seat, she is capable of operating the car, thus she is driving for the legal defintion. This is one reason lawyers in Louisiana and Florida often instruct clients that in the event they find themselves too impared to drive and they need o pull over and sleep it off to make sure to throw the keys as far as they possibly can from the car so they will not be recovered by the police. In many states as long as the keys are in the defendnats actual or constructive possession, she is driving. Constructive possession meaning if she has actual physical control over the keys or if she can obtain the keys.
    A different argument is made when the car is inoperable because of an accident or the wheels for example have fallen off (I know that is the extreme). In a case where a person is involved in a one car accident and the police arrive ,the state still must prove that the defendant was the person driving the car AT THE TIME OF THE ACCIDENT. A good defense lawyer can obtain an aquittal even if the person is behind the wheel if the state does not have a “wheel witness” Someone must be able to identify the driver as the person who was driving the car. One argument often made is that the drunk behind the wheel was not driving, a friend was, and if the police have no evidence to the contrary , (regardless of how ridiculous it sounds) it is too bad for the the prosecution. Even the accused’s own admission that they were driving cannot be used to prove they were in fact driving, if the corpus delecti has not been shown. In other words before an admission of guilt can be used to establish guilt, the state must first show that a crime occured and that the defendant commtted the crime. Witnesses to the accident usually provide this, but in the rare one car accident , this defense works well. The state can however establish that the accused was driving through circumstanial evidence and then the admission would come in. Ok enough about that.
    The other issue is that the state must show that the accused’s BAC Blood or breath alcohol was over the legal limit AT THE TIME OF DRIVING. This often plays a major role in the defense when the accused’s BAC is not much higher than the legal limit. If the test is given (and by law it must be) at the station, often one to two or more hours pass between the time of driving and the time of the test. I was going to go into some recent United States Supreme Court cases, but I have written too much already. Sorry!
    The term is retrograde extrapolation. I am sure you are more familiar with it than I am and I am a lawyer who has used this defense more than once. It of course requres the cost of an expensive expert witness to testify. I refer you to a great website I found that talks about extrapolation and the absorption of alcohol and at what rate, because most lay persons assume many incorrect factors. Every single persons’s body eliminates alcohol at a different ratio and speed.

    (see, People v. Sesman, (1987) 137 Misc2d 676, 521 NYS2d 626; and see, People v. Bock, (1977) 77 Misc2d 350, 353 NYS2d 647), the juxtaposition of these two statutes therefore begs the obvious; is it illegal to drive a motor vehicle with more than .10% of alcohol in the bloodstream at the time of operation or is it simply enough for a test administered within two hours of arrest to show the motorist possessed the statutorily prohibited amount? The answer to this question can be crucial in as much as a finding that the later is a correct statement of the law will bar consideration by the trier of fact of any evidence or testimony as to the blood alcohol content of the motorist at the time of operation.
    People v. Mertz (1986) 68 NY2d 136, 506 NYS2d 290, the Court of Appeals carefully reviewed the statutory history of Vehicle and Traffic Law ‘1192 and concluded that BAC at the time of operation was the sought after number. Accordingly, the Court found error on the part of the trial court in refusing to permit the defendant to offer evidence that the alcoholic content of his blood at the time of operation was lower than it was when the test was conducted. Following Mertz, in 1988 the legislature sought to overrule that aspect of Mertz and amended ‘1192 through the addition of the description per se to the title of the offense.
    Retrograde Extrapolation of Blood Alcohol Data: An Applied Approach, (Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 36:281-292, 1992) Montgomery and Reasor identified some of the more pivotal factors.

    The below website discussed how the alcohol is eliminated from our bodies and what factors determine if a person would be going up or down two hours after , assuming the test is administered then.

    For entertainment purposes only, I stress, I invite you to my article where I posted the BAC wheel. you can enter your weight, age, drinks, time etc and it will give you a pretty accurate idea of what you BAC would be.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry again. I love your sight, which I discovered because I am a lawyer (wanna be) writer) working on the second draft of my legal thriller. Thank you for the great blog. I am eager to read more.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

      Thanks for your input. Loved your comments as I’m sure many of my readers will. Good luck with your novel.



  10. Melissa Sugar

    January 26, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you. I know it was too long, but you have such great information on your site that I got carried away with my message. I have been reading more of your post. You have become my go-to person for forensic info.


  11. L.C. McCabe

    February 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    That is a damned high BA level. I’ve worked in clinical hospital labs and have seen many elevated BAs. I think the highest I saw was 0.65 . I became alarmed when I saw that, then I checked the patient’s history and saw that they were a regular ER admit with other similarly ox-staggeringly drunk high levels for alcohol.

    These aren’t casual drinkers. They’re trained alcoholics.



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