Inquests held for three water deaths

In a series of inquests this month, juries heard how three visitors to Grand Cayman died in separate incidents while swimming or snorkeling.

Jurors determined that John Stamper, 62, died of natural causes on Dec. 22, 2011; Norman Cranin, 83, died by misadventure on Feb. 20, 2011; and Robert Stockburger, 63, died of natural causes on May 16, 2013.

John Stamper
Mr. Stamper, who lived in Denver, Colorado, came to Cayman with his wife two months after he had surgery for removal of a cyst from his spine. Other recent surgeries included a hip replacement. His recuperation was complicated by two falls, which resulted in leg fractures. While his fractures were healing, he was wheelchair bound, with resulting weight gain and deconditioning. He also had a heart condition.

When he complained of shoulder pain and his wife asked if it could be related to his heart, he attributed it to arthritis and past orthopedic repairs of his shoulders.

This background information was obtained from Mrs. Stamper by pathologist Cheryl Reichert, whose autopsy report was shared with jury members.

Mrs. Stamper told Dr. Reichert that her husband was on a program of physical therapy and, by the time they came to Cayman, he was able to walk, albeit with a limp. He had previously loved scuba diving, and the day after they arrived, they went snorkeling at the dive site at the Cracked Conch. The water was choppy and he struggled with shortness of breath, so they aborted that trip and decided to look for a more sheltered area.

The next day, they went to Smith Cove and soon after entering the water she could tell he was having difficulty, as he was slowing down. She asked if he was having trouble and he said yes, so she told him to float on his back and she brought him to shore. He could not stand up and when he fell over, she yelled for help while attempting to keep his head above water.

Bystanders immediately came to her assistance, CPR was performed, and an ambulance summoned. Mr. Stamper was declared dead at the Cayman Islands Hospital.

The post mortem examination showed that Mr. Stamper was 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 295 pounds. Even though he collapsed in the water, it was clear he did not drown, as there was no froth or bubbles in his bronchial tree, as is typically seen in drowning victims.

His heart was significantly enlarged, weighing 730 grams; this was more than double the expected weight of 350 grams.

The pathologist said Mr. Stamper’s physical condition was further compromised by pulmonary hypertension, which caused symptoms such as shortness of breath during routine activities, tiredness and a racing heartbeat. Recent orthopedic surgeries with complications masked deterioration of Mr. Stamper’s cardiac function, which was exacerbated by deconditioning and weight gain, Dr. Reichert concluded.

The jury adopted her finding of congestive heart failure with cardiac arrhythmia as the physical cause of death and returned a verdict of natural causes.

Norman Cranin
Mr. Cranin was a repeat visitor to Cayman from New York, arriving with family on Feb. 14, 2011. He was a strong swimmer and was known to swim out for long periods and then come ashore in other areas, causing the family panic.

Around 4 p.m. on Feb. 20, he entered the water alone at Kaibo, with a mask and snorkel. His daughter on the beach saw him swim out about 50 yards, but then lost sight of him because the water was choppy.

After about 10 minutes, she became worried and started looking for him and other people on the beach assisted. A woman from Gardens of the Kai got a canoe out and began looking for Mr. Cranin. His son-in-law also took a canoe out to search.
Just over 100 yards out, the woman found Mr. Cranin face down with his mask still on. She jumped into the water and began CPR. Mr. Cranin’s son-in-law paddled over and jumped into the water to assist. They took turns doing CPR, but he did not respond. They got him to shore with the assistance of a surfboard and a man who identified himself as a doctor continued emergency care. Ambulance personnel arrived shortly after and continued medical care. Mr. Cranin was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Dr. Shravana Jyoti conducted the autopsy and jury members had copies of his report. Mr. Cranin was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 170 pounds. His lungs had a combined weight of 2,000 grams; the expected weight would be around 850 grams. There was froth in his bronchial tree. His left coronary artery was blocked up to 80 per cent by atheromatous plaque. The doctor considered this significant.

The jury adopted his finding as to physical cause of death – hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and terminal sea water drowning. The verdict was that death was brought about by misadventure.

Robert Stockburger
Mr. Stockburger, who resided in Virginia, was a passenger aboard the cruise ship Freedom of the Seas, traveling with a group that included a former work colleague. A retired plumber, Mr. Stockburger had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis three years earlier. He was getting a progressive increase of breathlessness on exertion. He was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 243.5 pounds, which Dr. Jyoti said was obese.

Statements taken by a police officer indicated Mr. Stockburger and friends went to Eden Rock to snorkel. He had his own gear, while others rented. He swam out about 300 yards and while the others were closer to shore, they saw him waving in a manner that indicated he was having difficulty.

Two men swam out to him. He was pale and couldn’t speak. Then he became unresponsive. The men held him face up and swam back to shore, with one on either side of Mr. Stockburger. When they reached shore, he was lifted out of the water. A woman who said she was a nurse administered CPR until an ambulance came and took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

Examination showed that his heart was mildly enlarged, weighing 440 grams. Frothy fluid material in his trachea and fluid in the sphenoid sinus were suggestive of terminal ocean water submersion, Dr. Jyoti said.

The physical cause of death appeared to be an acute coronary event, he continued. Mr. Stockburger’s recent shortness of breath on exertion, his obesity and signs of hypertensive heart disease may have been sufficient in the context of swimming in the ocean to give him an acute myocardial infarction, the pathologist’s report stated. The presence of froth made it plausible that drowning was involved in the terminal events, he concluded.

The jury adopted his finding for physical cause of death and their verdict was natural causes.

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