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Kenneka Jenkins Death An Accident; Alcohol, Medication Factors, Authorities Say

(CBS) – Cook County medical examiners say the death of Kenneka Jenkins, the 19-year-old woman found dead in a walk-in cooler and freezer Sept. 10 in Rosemont, was an accident, with intoxication from alcohol and medication being contributing factors.

Jenkins died from hypothermia after being exposed to cold, the Medical Examiner's Office said in a news release issued Friday.

Kenneka Jenkins
Kenneka Jenkins (Photo supplied to CBS)

Toxicology tests detected alcohol and topiramate, an epilepsy/migraine medication, in the woman's system. Her blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.112, which is  higher than the 0.08 BAC level that is considered as legally drunk for motorists in Illinois, the coroner's office said.

Jenkins did not have a prescription for the topiramate medication, her family told investigators. The amount of the drug in her system was in the "therapeutic range," the coroner's office said.

"Alcohol and topiramate are synergistic. When combined, the effect of either or both drugs is enhanced. Topiramate, like alcohol, can cause dizziness, impaired memory, impaired concentration, poor coordination, confusion and impaired judgment," the news release said.

"Central nervous system depression, or impairment, combined with cold exposure can hasten the onset of hypothermia and death."

Jenkins' death became a flashpoint for controversy, with friends and family members questioning if foul play was involved and whether police were covering it up. The Chicago woman was reported missing after she went to a Sept. 8 party at Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosemont. Her body was found in a lower-level, walk-in cooler and freezer early Sept. 10.

"The investigator found Ms. Jenkins lying face down in a walk-in freezer that is inside of a walk-in refrigerated cooler. The doors to the cooler and freezer had been closed when Ms. Jenkins was discovered," the coroner's office said. "The cooler and freezer were both operational. The walk in freezer was approximately 34 degrees Fahrenheit two hours after Ms. Jenkins was discovered. The doors of the cooler and freezer were open for approximately two hours when this temperature was recorded."

Authorities early on suspected Jenkins mistakenly walked into the freezer by accident. Surveillance video clips were released of Jenkins wandering the hotel, including a kitchen area, on her own. No video exists of Jenkins actually entering the freezer, hotel officials have told CBS.

The medical examiner's office says it ordered comprehensive toxicology tests to determine whether any drugs, including so-called "date rape" substances, were in Jenkins' system. There were none, the news release said.

In addition, examiners found "mucosal erosions" in Jenkins' stomach, which are indicative of hypothermia. Her brain was swollen, and there was an abrasion on her right ankle and purple contusion on her right leg, autopsy results show. There was "no other evidence of external or internal trauma," the medical examiner's office said.

"It is determined that the substantial factor in this death is cold exposure. The alcohol and drug found in Ms. Jenkins' system combined with cold exposure can hasten the onset of hypothermia and death," the medical examiner's office concluded.

"There is no evidence, per the police investigation, that Ms. Jenkins was forced to consume the alcohol or the drug. There is no evidence of another person in the vicinity of the kitchen with the decedent and there is no evidence of an altercation or interaction with another individual in the time immediately prior to demise. There was no other evidence of external or internal trauma due to physical abuse."

Rosemont police on Friday said they have not closed the case. They say they are seeking two individuals who rented the hotel room for the party Jenkins attended.

Attorneys for Jenkins' family are conducting their own investigation. They have suggested the hotel may be at fault for the woman's death.


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