Kenneka Jenkins case: Autopsy results released in teen's death in freezer

CBS News - UPDATE: 10/6/2017 4:58 p.m.

Cook County medical examiners say the death of Kenneka Jenkins, the 19-year-old woman found dead in a walk-in freezer Sept. 10 at Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosemont, was an accident, with intoxication from alcohol and medication being contributing factors, reports CBS Chicago.

Jenkins died from hypothermia after being exposed to conditions of the walk-in freezer, the Medical Examiner's Office said in a news release issued Friday.

Toxicology tests detected alcohol and topiramate, an epilepsy/migraine medication, in the woman's system. Her blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.112, which is higher than the 0.08 BAC level that is considered as legally drunk for motorists in Illinois, the coroner's office said.

The autopsy determined the substantial factor in the death was cold exposure, and the alcohol and drug found in her system were capable of hastening the onset of hypothermia and death, the medical examiner's office found.

Jenkins did not have a prescription for the topiramate medication, her family reportedly told investigators. The amount of the drug in her system was in the "therapeutic range," the coroner's office said.

"Alcohol and topiramate are synergistic. When combined, the effect of either or both drugs is enhanced. Topiramate, like alcohol, can cause dizziness, impaired memory, impaired concentration, poor coordination, confusion and impaired judgment," the news release said. "Central nervous system depression, or impairment, combined with cold exposure can hasten the onset of hypothermia and death."

Jenkins' death became a flashpoint for controversy, with friends and family members questioning if foul play was involved, the station reports. The Chicago woman was reported missing after she went to a Sept. 8 party at the hotel.   

Authorities early on suspected Jenkins walked into the freezer by accident. Surveillance video clips released of Jenkins wandering the hotel, including a kitchen area, show her walking by herself, and at some points appearing disoriented. 

No video exists of Jenkins actually entering the freezer, hotel officials have said.

The autopsy found no evidence of an altercation with someone else before her death and no evidence of trauma due to abuse.



For days, the big question has been this: How did Kenneka Jenkins end up in a suburban Chicago hotel's walk-in freezer?

On Thursday, Chicago crisis responder Andrew Holmes tried to help shed some light on the 19-year-old Chicago woman's mysterious death, CBS Chicago station WBBM-TV reports.

Jenkins was found dead inside the freezer early Sunday after attending a party at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont. Her family previously said she went to a party at the hotel with friends late Friday night. Her friends called family members Saturday morning to say they couldn't find her.

Holmes said he watched hotel surveillance video that shows Jenkins walking, on her own, into the freezer. She appeared to be trying to find her way back upstairs to the hotel lobby, trying different doors, Holmes said.

"We all wanted to know: Did anybody pull her down there? Did anybody force her down there? Was anybody on the other side in that room when she got down there? And the answer to that is no," Holmes said.

"She walked into that unsecured area that should have been secured," he said.

After news of her death broke, a social-media firestorm erupted, with some people suggesting Jenkins fell victim to foul play.

Protesters and family members converged on the hotel Wednesday, demanding answers from the village government and hotel operators. Another demonstration occurred Thursday evening; police said they took four people into custody.

Jenkins' mother addressed protesters Thursday night. She challenged much of what Holmes said and said that she has several unanswered questions about the investigation.

"It was a tragic accident," said Glenn Harston, a Crowne Plaza spokesperson.

He said the walk-in freezer has latches on both sides of the door but does not lock.

Police said they released the surveillance video to Jenkins' mother and to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, which requested the material. Autopsy and toxicology results are pending.

Also Thursday, the Crowne Plaza offered to pay for the funeral expenses for Jenkins.

Holmes, meanwhile, asked people to stop speculating and making accusations on social media. If someone thinks they have evidence, they should go to police directly, he said.

Holmes said he can't comment on all of the video he reviewed because police are still working on the case.

Rosemont police confirmed they looped Holmes into the case, saying they did so with the knowledge and consent of Jenkins' family.


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