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Postmortem Ethanol in the Setting of Ethanol-Containing Automotive Fuel

Garber, Mitchell A. MD, MPH, MSME*; Canfield, Dennis V. PhD; Lewis, Russell J. PhD; Simmons, Samuel D. MD, MBA; Radisch, Deborah L. MD, MPH

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 1 - p 7–8
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31825faafe
Case Reports

The pilot of a light aircraft that crashed after a loss of power was found to have ethanol in the vitreous and the blood, but almost none in the urine. The globes of the eyes were intact, and the body was refrigerated after recovery until the autopsy was performed the following morning. The pilot was described as a “nondrinker,” and additional specialized toxicology testing results were inconsistent with ethanol ingestion. The pilot’s body was extensively exposed to fuel during the prolonged extraction. Investigation determined that the aircraft had been fueled with gasoline that contained 10% ethanol. Although exposure to automotive fuel has not been previously described as a source of ethanol in postmortem specimens, it may represent a source for the ethanol detected during postmortem toxicology testing in this case, and this finding may be relevant to other cases with similar exposure.

From *Engineering Systems, Inc; †FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory; and ‡North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Norcross, GA.

Manuscript received February 6, 2012; accepted May 10, 2012.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Mitchell A. Garber, MD, MPH, MSME, Engineering Systems, Inc, 6230 Regency Pkwy, Norcross, GA 30071. E-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.