Was It Homicide? Water-Drinking Stunt Killed Mother of Three

The family of Jennifer Lea Strange, who died last weekend of water intoxication after entering a radio station contest, reportedly plan to sue the radio station. (ABC News)
The family of Jennifer Lea Strange, who died last weekend of water intoxication after entering a radio station contest, reportedly plan to sue the radio station. (ABC News)

The family of the woman who died after a radio station water-drinking contest reportedly plans to file a wrongful death suit against the station.

According to The Associated Press, Jennifer Lea Strange's family plans to announce the lawsuit at a news conference today in Sacramento, Calif.

Strange, 28, died Jan. 12, after entering a water-drinking contest sponsored by Sacramento radio station KDND-FM. Detectives have opened a homicide investigation after listening to a tape of the broadcast obtained by The Sacramento Bee newspaper.

Strange was one of 18 participants in a contest the disc jockeys on KDND's "Morning Rave" program called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii."

The contestant who drank the most water without going to the bathroom would win a Nintendo Wii gaming console.

Strange came in second after drinking nearly two gallons of water. Preliminary findings from the Sacramento County coroner's office indicated that her death was "consistent with water intoxication."

Judy Linder, a registered nurse, was listening to the program and was so alarmed that she asked a colleague to call and warn the station.

"She told them you could die from water intoxication," Linder told ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento. "He [the disc jockey] pretty much blew that off and said they signed a release so, so what? Then he said why don't your guys come down here and do it, and we said because we don't want to die."

Jokes About Danger

According to a tape of the show, the disc jockeys appeared to joke about the possible dangers of consuming too much water and alluded to a college student who had died during such a stunt in 2005.

"Yeah, we're aware of that," one of the disc jockeys said.

Another disc jockey said: "Yeah. They signed releases, so we're not responsible. We're OK."

"And if they get to the point where they have to throw up, then they're going to throw up, and they're out of the contest before they die, so that's good, right?" another disc jockey said.

The transcript also suggests that the announcers were aware that Strange appeared to struggle during the water-drinking contest.

Disc Jockey: "Jennifer, I heard you were not doing too well."

Strange:"My head hurts."

Disc Jockey: "Aw."

Strange: "They keep telling me it's the water. It will tell my head to hurt and that it will make me puke, but."

Disc Jockey: "Who told you that? The intern?"

Strange: "Yeah. It makes you. ... It hurts, but it makes me feel lightheaded."

Firings at Station

KDND's parent company, Entercom/Sacramento, fired 10 people, including the three announcers involved in the contest on Tuesday, and took "Morning Rave" off the air.

The company has promised to cooperate with the homicide investigation.

John Geary, the general manager of Entercom/Sacramento, recorded a statement for radio station listeners on Tuesday.

"First and foremost our thoughts and sympathies go out to Jennifer's family and loved ones," he said. "I also want to assure you that the circumstances regarding this matter are being examined as thoroughly as possible."

Water intoxication can be a problem for marathon runners and other athletes who lose fluids and replace them too rapidly, but there are other infamous cases alleging water intoxication.

In 2005, Matthew Carrington, 21, of Chico, Calif., died after drinking excessive amounts of water during a fraternity initiation. Four fraternity members pleaded guilty to manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing in his death.

Sacramento lawyer and former U.S. attorney Bill Portanova believes that the Carrington case will be important to any lawsuit filed against KDND.

If KDND's disc jockeys alluded to Carrington's death, Portanova said, then they should have known about the risks. As for Strange's signed release form, according to Portanova, "You can't agree in advance to someone's negligence."

Portanova said he would be surprised to see an out-of-court settlement.

'We Miss Her Dearly'

Meanwhile Strange's husband and three children continue to grieve.

"She was trying to win something for her family that she thought we would enjoy," her husband, William, said a short statement last weekend. "We will miss her dearly. She was my girl."

Tracy Beam, Strange's friend, blames the station.

"People have died from this before, and here we are. We don't have our Jennifer," Beam said.

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