Wofford College tennis player Randall Heffron died of inhaling food he had vomited after a heavy night of drinking, the Spartanburg County coroner confirmed on Thursday afternoon.
Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said alcohol did not kill Heffron, 20, who died at 1:11 a.m. Sept. 10 at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center.
But the coroner confirmed that toxicology revealed Heffron had a .253 blood alcohol level, which is three times the legal definition of intoxication in the state of South Carolina for driving purposes for of-age adults.
"A large mass of food was removed by Emergency Physicians at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center," Clevenger said in a release. "At autopsy the following was recorded: 'Mr. Heffron died as a result of respiratory insufficiency secondary to aspiration of food (so called café coronary).' The elevated ethanol level may have contributed to the vomiting episode which led to extensive aspiration of food.'"
Heffron's death has been ruled as accidental.
Heffron collapsed on the bathroom floor at Shipp Residence Hall at Wofford College just after midnight on Sept. 10.
Doctors found a piece of pizza in Heffron's throat while they were attempting to revive him at the hospital, according to his mother Robin Heffron.
That prompted questions from Robin Heffron as to whether or not the initial assumptions made by Wofford College Campus Security and EMS personnel regarding alcohol consumption were correct, and if those assumptions had affected Heffron's treatment.
But while the report confirmed Heffron was intoxicated, it does little to answer questions as to whether or not personnel could have saved his life had they focused on the possibility of an airway obstruction, rather than acute intoxication itself.
Robin Heffron released a statement through the coroner's office.
"The pain of losing a child is compounded by the fact that underage drinking was involved. This tragedy shows that even a gifted athlete such as Randall can succumb to college dorm life and die in an instant if the cause of the medical emergency is not recognized I pray that we can all learn something from this tragedy," she said.
"None of our children are immune to the 'fun' and dangers that come with college life. Parents and students, become familiar with the Heimlich Maneuver. College officials please spread this message. Post Heimlich Maneuver posters in all the dorms and bathrooms.
"I thank you for your overwhelming support during this sad time."