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Alcohol sped up man’s death from hypothermia

Cory Jarock had more than four times the legal driving limit for alcohol in his blood when he was kicked out of an Invermere house party
Cory Jarock

Cory Jarock had more than four times the legal driving limit for alcohol in his blood when he was kicked out of an Invermere house party in April 2012, a trial has heard.

Jarock died of hypothermia in the driveway of a home in Invermere on April 3, 2012. Brian Panebianco has been charged with manslaughter in Jarock's death, and his trial is underway in Cranbrook Supreme Court this week and next before a 14-person jury.

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, an RCMP forensic toxicologist testified that samples of blood, urine and eye fluid taken from Jarock showed extremely high levels of intoxication.

Heather Dinn found that Jarock's blood sample had a concentration of 284 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit for driving is 80 milligrams blood alcohol content.

But Jarock's urine showed an alcohol content of 490 milligrams.

Dinn said that the higher alcohol content in his urine suggests that Jarock stopped drinking some time before he died as his body had started to break down the alcohol.

Crown prosecutor Lynal Doerksen asked Dinn to calculate what Jarock’s blood alcohol content would have been five hours before he died, assuming that’s when he stopped drinking.

She estimated that his blood alcohol content at that time would have been between 334 and 384 milligrams per 100 millilitres, more than four times the legal limit for driving.

Dinn said that blood alcohol content would represent about nine cans of beer in an hour, plus one beer for every hour he had been drinking. If he had been drinking for four hours, for instance, he would have drunk 12 beer in that time.

She testified that a social drinker – someone who consumes no more than 14 standard drinks a week – could die of alcohol consumption at about 350 milligrams.

Dinn said Jarock’s blood alcohol level would be “of concern for anyone”, even someone with a high alcohol tolerance. “Certainly it is a very high concentration and a person may die,” she said.

However, forensic pathologist Dr. William Currie testified that it was not alcohol that killed Jarock but exposure and hypothermia. Currie said there was no evidence that Jarock had vomited, and his body had begun to absorb the alcohol before he died.

“(That level of intoxication) can kill some people,” said Currie. “It didn’t kill him because he then metabolized it down to the 200s.”

The temperature overnight on April 2 to 3, 2012 dropped to minus 1.7 degrees Celsius, and Currie testified that someone can die of exposure in temperatures colder than plus 10 degrees Celsius.

He found abrasions caused by exposure on Jarock’s body, and his heart and brain were consistent with hypothermia. Jarock had also removed some of his clothing before he died – a paradoxical symptom of hypothermia.

The alcohol Jarock had consumed heightened the effects of hypothermia, Currie went on, as alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate and the body temperature drops faster.

Crown counsel Doerksen asked Currie what would have happened if it had been 20 degrees outside that night.

“He’d be sore the next day and he’d have a shiner, but he wouldn’t be dead,” said Currie.

Defense counsel Greg Sawchuk asked if someone in similar circumstances but without alcohol in the blood would also have died from hypothermia. They would have, Currie said, if they weren’t able to get inside.

Currie also described other injuries on Jarock’s body, including multiple abrasions that appeared to have been caused by the man stumbling and falling on pavement. There was also blunt force trauma to Jarock’s forehead, cheek, neck, shoulder and back that were not consistent with a fall. The bruises on Jarock’s face corresponded to some bruising on his brain and likely caused a concussion.

However, Currie testified, none of those injuries were severe enough to directly cause Jarock’s death.

Brian Panebianco faces charges of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, assault causing bodily harm and robbery in connection with Jarock’s death.

A criminal trial continues Thursday in Cranbrook Supreme Court.