Stairwell death case: coroner blames British woman's alcoholism

14.12.2013 14:05

A woman found dead in a locked
stairwell 17 days after she went
missing from her room at San
Francisco general hospital died
accidentally, probably due to a
chemical imbalance related to
chronic alcohol abuse, the medical
examiner's office has said.
Lynne Spalding, 57, had been
dead for days when she was found on
8 October inside the hospital building,
the San Francisco assistant medical
examiner Ellen Moffat said.
Spalding had been admitted to
the hospital on 19 September with a
urinary infection and had been in an
altered mental state for one to two
months, as well as having lost weight,
Moffat's report said. Laboratory test
results were consistent with
"alcoholic liver disease".
Two days after Spalding was
admitted she disappeared from her
hospital room. According to the
coroner's report Spalding had been
confused and delirious that day. She
did not know the day, time or why
she was in hospital.
Her remains were not found
until 8 October when a maintenance
worker walked down the stairwell
during his quarterly inspection.
Four days earlier a hospital staff
member had reported to police seeing
a body in a locked stairwell of the
building where Spalding had been a
patient. A sheriff's dispatcher told
hospital officials the department
would respond but "there is no
indication that any one was
dispatched to that stairwell", the
sheriff's department has admitted.
Several employees with the city
sheriff's department, which provides
hospital security, were reassigned
after Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi
acknowledged that a thorough search
was never conducted for Spalding.
Sheriff's deputies at the hospital
did a "perimeter search" of the 9.7ha
(24-acre) campus within an hour of
Spalding's original disappearance but
it was not until 30 September that
they attempted a more extensive
search of the grounds, Mirkarimi
The next day, after it became
clear that not all the stairwells used
as fire exits had been searched, a
supervisor ordered the stairwell
searches to continue but "only about
half the stairwells" ever were, he said.
Spalding's death was an accident,
the coroner's report said. The cause
was listed as "probable electrolyte
imbalance with delirium" due to
"complications of chronic
David Perry, a family spokesman
who knew Spalding for six years, said
he had been pressing for the report's
release for weeks. He denied that
Spalding ever had an alcohol
problem. "Lynne was certainly not
an alcoholic nor was she in any
programme that I was aware of," he
According to the report
Spalding's body was clad in street
clothes when it was discovered —
including a black and white jacket, a
black top, black pants and a pair of
black boots. There were no signs of
An exact time of death was not
determined – Perry said this was
disappointing. "The only issue is did
she die on 21 September or sometime
later," he said. "If the answer is she
died after 21 September then her
family and friends feel that Lynne
Spalding was killed through the
neglect and malfeasance of San
Francisco general hospital and the
San Francisco sheriff's department."
In a statement released on
Friday hospital spokesman Tristan
Cook said a number of new measures
had been put into place after
Spalding's death, including daily
stairwell checks and new training for
security staff.
A hospital spokeswoman said the
witness who reported seeing
Spalding's body in the stairwell 4
October was a University of
California San Francisco researcher.
She was interviewed by authorities
but the substance of that interview
has not been made public.