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Medical examiner: Chicago woman died from exposure and her death was an accident

Gregory Pratt, Vikki Ortiz Healy and Ese Olumhense, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- The Cook County medical examiner's office has determined that Kenneka Jenkins' death at a Rosemont hotel was an accident. She died of hypothermia from exposure to cold in a walk-in freezer, it said.

Alcohol intoxication and the use of a drug for treating epilepsy and migraines were "significant contributing factors," the office said.

The 19-year old was found inside the freezer on Sept. 10 after she disappeared from a room at the Crowne Plaza in suburban Rosemont. She had attended a party with as many as 30 other people on the ninth floor and wasn't found until nearly 24 hours after her disappearance, after repeated pleas to the hotel and police by the family.

Surveillance videos released by police days later show Jenkins, alone, wandering through a kitchen area near the freezer not long after she disappeared.

The initial lack of information released by authorities drew activists and sparked online conspiracy theories that she was attacked and killed. The speculation was fueled by a number of videos on social media appearing to show the party and some of Jenkins' friends.

The autopsy found mucosal erosions, a type of lesion, that indicated Jenkins had suffered from hypothermia, the medical examiner's office said in a statement.

There was an abrasion to her right ankle and a purple contusion on her right leg, but no other sign of external or internal trauma, the office said. Her brain was swollen, but that is not indicative of a specific cause of death, it said.

Comprehensive toxicology tests were conducted for hundreds of drugs of abuse, medications and other chemical compounds, and the office said it sought to see if "date rape drugs" were in her system. None were found, the office said.

The testing found alcohol, caffeine and the epilepsy/migraine medication topiramate in Jenkins' system, the office said. Her family said she had not been prescribed the drug, but the level was within the therapeutic range, the office said.

Her blood alcohol level was 0.112, higher than the legal limit of 0.08 for legally driving. The alcohol and the drug can enhance each other, the office said.

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