RALEIGH, N.C. – Six out of the seven college students killed last month in a beach house fire had alcohol in their systems, although a prosecutor said he doesn't believe drinking played a role in the deaths.
The blood-alcohol levels ranged from .16 percent to .29 percent, Dr. John Butts, the state's chief medical examiner, said Friday. The legal limit for driving in North Carolina is .08 percent, and Butts said the alcohol levels may have affected the students' coordination and "their ability to respond."
But Brunswick County District Attorney Rex Gore dismissed the suggestion that drinking contributed to the deaths. He noted there was no trace of alcohol in the seventh victim. Six other students staying at the house were able to escape the blaze, and at least two did so by jumping from a window.
"It's a tragedy when they have those levels of alcohol," Gore said. "But I haven't seen anything to indicate that was a major contributing factor to the fire or to the chances of survival."
Butts said the students weren't screened for other drugs. Their cause of death was listed as carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation, he said, although their autopsy reports are not officially complete.
Investigators have said the exact cause of the fire is undetermined, but they were unable to rule out improperly discarded cigarettes.
Six of the students attended the University of South Carolina, and the seventh went to Clemson University.