Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Christopher Webster, Coroner, having investigated the death of
Christine Jan Clarke
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
Find That :
Christine Jan Clarke (Mrs Clarke) died on 17 January 2011 at her residence in Queenstown.
Mrs Clarke was born on 29 May 1950 and was aged 60 years at the time of her death.
I find that Mrs Clarke died due to probable electrocution. A significant contributing factor was hypertensive heart disease.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death :
Mrs Clarke resided at 1 Knox Street, Queenstown with her husband Graeme (Mr Clarke). They lived at this address for over 40 years, built their family home and raised three children. Their daughter and grandson had recently returned to live in the family home.
Mrs Clarke had been retired for a number of years. She had an extensive medical history including recurring breast malignancy, hypertension and steatotic hepatitis.
During the early evening of Monday 17 January 2011, Mrs Clarke was alone in the kitchen at her home residence. At this time, Mr Clarke was with his daughter and grandson in the lounge room.
Mrs Clarke has called out to Mr Clarke and immediately collapsed unresponsive on the kitchen floor. Mr Clarke and his daughter attempted CPR and called emergency services. Ambulance personnel continued with emergency intervention but all resuscitative efforts were unsuccessful.
Following cessation of treatment, Mr Clarke came in contact with a metal strip that ran around the edge of the kitchen bench. He experienced an electric shock and was observed by ambulance personnel to be thrown forward and he made a grunting noise. Ambulance personnel requested that the power to the residence was switched off. Power was switched off at the main switch by a neighbour. The neighbour has then contacted a local electrician who conducted some tests prior to the arrival of investigators.
Tasmania Police attended and commenced an investigation. Two 'Electrical Compliance Inspectors' of Aurora Energy also attended.
It was noted that there were three power points in the kitchen, all had a plug inserted and all switches were turned on, with the exception of the power point for the fry pan that was turned off. A series of tests were conducted on all appliances and metal surfaces in the kitchen. There was 4.15 volts found on the frypan, when the frypan was turned on at the socket outlet the voltage rose to 134 volts.
A post mortem examination was conducted by Forensic Pathologist, Dr Donald Ritchey. He determined the cause of death to be probable electrocution sustained while using a faulty kitchen appliance (frying pan). A probable significant contributing factor was hypertensive heart disease.
Dr Ritchey commented:
'The autopsy revealed a well developed, obese (obesity defined as a body mass index of greater than or equal to 30kg/m2) adult Caucasian woman with hypertensive cardiovascular disease including an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) with a thickened wall of the left ventricle (concentric left ventricular hypertrophy) consistent with a history of high blood pressure. There was a contusion on the tongue consistent with tongue-biting hear the time of death. No clear anatomic cause of death was identified. There was a small thermal burn on the most anterior portion of the abdomen above the umbilicus consistent with an electrical entrance wound. This would was located approximately 90cm above the level of the heel consistent with the height of the kitchen electrical fault.'
In Dr Ritchey opinion,
'Mrs Clarke suffered an electrical shock after which she called out to her husband before collapsing of a probable fatal cardiac arrhythmia. Individuals with enlarged hearts, regardless of the aetiology of the enlargements, are at risk of sudden death; in particular they are at greater risk of dying from electric shock. It is common for individuals receiving an electric shock to bite their tongues.'
Toxicology results from a post mortem blood sample were unremarkable.
In a report provided as part of this investigation, Electrical Compliance Officers identified a number of potentially hazardous voltage levels and possible fatal electric shock scenarios.
1. Victim simultaneously contacted frypan case and surface in electrical contact with earth.
2. Victim simultaneously contacted fluorescent light fitting and a surface in contact with earth (2 foot fluorescent light fitting above the kitchen bench).
3. Victim contacted kitchen taps or other metallic earthed appliance and an earthed situation simultaneously with supply neutral broken or arcing at the same time.
4. Victim contacted known voltage source and an earthed situation (eg contact with toaster element or foreign object inserted into socket outlet).
The Electrical Compliance Officers provided an opinion that scenario 1 and 2 were most likely scenarios involving electricity. Their report notes that the shock current for both scenarios would be unlikely to cause a fatal electric shock.
Findings and Concluding Comments :
I am satisfied that a thorough and detailed investigation has occurred into the death of Mrs Clarke and that there are no suspicious circumstances.
I find that Mrs Clarke suffered an electric shock. The position of the electrical entrance wound is consistent with an electrical source at kitchen bench height. From evidence presented, the faulty frypan and surrounding surface was the most likely hazardous scenario if the power point was on immediately prior to Mrs Clarke's collapse. At the time investigators arrived, the power point to the fry pan was off. As there is no eye witness to what Mrs Clarke was touching in the kitchen at the time of her collapse, based on the evidence before me I am unable to eliminate the other possibilities.
I accept Dr Ritchey's opinion that Mrs Clarke was more vulnerably to dying of electric shock due to her medical condition.
If find that Mrs Clarke died due to probable electrocution and that a significant contributing factor was hypertensive heart disease.
I conclude by conveying my sincere condolences to Mrs Clarke's family.
DATED: 14 November 2011 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.