While trekking through parts of Asia with her friends, British backpacker, 23-year-old Cheznye Emmons, died after consuming what she thought was gin. Upon further examination, the bottle originally labeled gin was actually filled with methanol – whether by intention or accident remains to be determined.
The young woman had been traveling across south Asia with group of acquaintances and friends, including her boyfriend, Joe Cook, 21, when they bought the tainted bottle from a local shop in Indonesia. Within hours of drinking the so-called gin, three of the travelers fell ill. Emmons took a turn for the worse. Within a few short days she was complained of being unable to see.
Once Emmons reached a clinic, she was placed into an induced coma. On April 25, the young woman’s parents, Pamela and Brenton, had to make the painful and difficult decision to turn off life support.
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, was once derived from the destructive distillation of wood. Modern methanol is produced in a catalytic industrial process directly from carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. In contrast, gin is distilled from juniper berries.
When methanol is ingested, even in small quantities, it is metabolized into formic acid or formate salts, which is poisonous to the central nervous system. Kidney failure, seizures, blindness, coma, and death can result. Because of these toxic properties, methanol is frequently used as a denaturant additive – denatured alcohol or methylated spirit – for ethanol manufactured for industrial uses.
The shop which sold the tainted bottle has since been shut down and is under investigation. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated, unique case of mislabeled liquor poisoning. In 2009, 25 people died in Bali after imbibing what they thought was arak – a clear, colorless, unsweetened anise-flavored distilled alcoholic drink – which was actually tainted with methanol.
Earlier this year, 19-year-old Liam Davies from Perth died after drinking a vodka mixer which was laced with methanol from a bar called Rudy’s Pub in Lombok, Indonesia.
A similar accidental death was seen in the 1996 dark comedy, Head Above Water. While vacationing at a family’s island summer home, a Supreme Court judge (played by Harvey Keitel), and his very young bride Nathalie (Cameron Diaz), have to deal with Nathalie’s ex Kent. Kent polishes off a bottle of what he thinks is vodka, which is in fact methanol, and is found dead the following morning.
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