Dead man had ‘colossal’ alcohol level in blood

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One of the highest alcohol readings ever recorded in the history of the State was detected in the blood stream of a man found dead in the toilet of a public house in Drogheda, an inquest heard yesterday.

Louth County Coroner Ronan Maguire said that the reading – 625mgs per 100ml of blood – was the highest “I have come across in my 14 years as coroner,” and is, he believes, “one of the highest ever recorded in the history of the State.”

The legal limit for driving is 80mgs while anything over 250 is potentially lethal, the coroner was told.

John “Jock” MacHale (39) was a well-known artist in Drogheda and was found dead in the toilets of the Black Bull pub in Drogheda at 2am on August 12th last. The Coroner’s Court in Drogheda yesterday heard that the toilets are at the entrance to the pub and you don’t have to go into the pub to use them. Mr MacHale was found sitting on the toilet with his head slumped to one side by a cleaner, Simon O’Connor, just before 2am.

He was cold to the touch and both he and pub owner Charles Egan had carried out CPR on Mr MacHale until an ambulance arrived. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The inquest heard the deceased had a history of alcohol and intravenous drug abuse and had been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease earlier this year.

He had been barred from the Black Bull pub itself, Mr Egan said. Mr MacHale had left his home in Brookville, Drogheda earlier that day and there were sightings of him in and around Drogheda. The inquest heard his family believe he had spent the day going from off-licence to off-licence and it later emerged he was seen on CCTV going into the toilets at the pub at about 3.45pm the previous day, August 11th.

He had locked himself into a cubicle and had what appeared to be a bottle of Fanta with him. His family said they always suspected that he added alcohol to bottles of minerals. Consultant pathologist Dr John Ryan said death was due to acute alcohol toxicity and he said the reading of 625, “is a colossal level of alcohol . . . studies say that over 250 is a lethal level.”

“This is the highest level I have seen and on its own will cause death, that is what I believe happened.” Mr Maguire said that the highest reading he had ever heard of was 640 which was recorded during an inquest in Dublin City Coroner’s Court.

“I am coroner for 14 years and this is one of the highest alcohol levels – I wonder where he got it and who sold it to him?” The inquest also heard Mr MacHale had badly damaged his liver with heavy drinking and it was less able to cope with alcohol as a result.

The coroner returned a verdict of death by misadventure because, “he died as an unintended consequence of an intended action.”

He and the gardaí expressed their sympathies to his family.

Source: The Irish Times, 1/10/10
Journalist: Elaine Keogh