Snowmass hot tub deaths likely caused by drugs, though “it’s not black and white”

Pitkin County coroner releases information on couple who died in November

A couple found dead in a Snowmass Village hot tub in November died of mixed drug intoxication, though the reasons both died are not totally clear, Pitkin County’s coroner said Wednesday.

“It is strange that both would die,” said Dr. Steve Ayers. “Each had slightly different (drugs) in their blood. It’s not black and white. It has us scratching our heads.”

Dominick Ricca, 32, of Destin, Florida, and Christin Hamilton, 31, of Terrytown, Louisiana, were found Nov. 4 floating in the condominium complex hot tub, which had a temperature of 106 degrees, according to autopsy reports.

A toxicology screen found methamphetamine, THC, diazepam, tramadol and MDA in Ricca’s blood, according to his autopsy report.

Diazepam, also known as Valium, is a sedative used to treat alcohol withdrawal, anxiety and seizures, while tramadol is a narcotic used to treat pain, according to WebMD. MDA is a stimulant and hallucinogenic party drug known as “Sally,” though ecstasy pills were found in the couple’s room so it may be MDMA that was in his blood, according to the report and Ayers.

Hamilton’s blood contained ethanol, caffeine, gabapentin, THC, buprenorphine, methamphetamine, MDA and mitragynine, according to her autopsy report.

Buprenorphine is sold under the brand name Suboxone and is used to treat opioid dependence, while mitragynine, also known as “kratom,” is used for the same thing though it is not officially approved for that use, according Ayers and online sources. The autopsy report notes that Hamilton used heroin for seven years and took some of the medication found in her blood to stay free of that drug.

Gabapentin is used to prevent and control seizures, according to WebMD.

“The levels of drugs detected in (Hamilton’s) blood are certainly a sufficient cause of death, standing alone,” according to her autopsy report.

Both autopsy reports note that sitting in 106-degree water under the influence of some of the drugs found in their blood systems “may also have precipitated a lethal arrhythmia.” The reports state that while no evidence of drowning was found in the autopsies, “there may be no autopsy findings in drowning deaths, and drowning while intoxicated cannot be ruled out as a contributory mechanism in this case.”

The reports also suggest that electrocution might have played a role, though emergency responders who reached in to the tub to retrieve the bodies did not receive an electrical shock, Ayers said.

“… (It) may be advisable, out of an abundance of caution, to have a thorough electrical inspection of the tub performed to rule out the possibility of low-wattage electrocution as a contributory to death,” according to both autopsy reports.

The owner of the hot tub, however, had it removed and destroyed after the bodies were found, Ayers said, so an inspection wasn’t done.