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NWC Student’s death linked to pot use

Colorado coroner says student had eaten marijuana cookie before fatal jump  

DENVER — Marijuana use is being blamed in part for the death of a Northwest College student who jumped from the balcony of a Denver hotel last month.

The Denver coroner said Levy Thamba, 19, had eaten a marijuana cookie before he jumped to his death on March 11. His full legal name was Levy Thamba Pongi, according to the coroner’s office, but he was known at NWC as Levy Thamba and that was also the name he used on his Facebook page.

An autopsy report released Wednesday says he died from the fall but also lists “marijuana intoxication” as a contributing factor in his death.

Thamba, who was on a spring break trip with three other NWC students, jumped from a fourth-floor balcony, a drop of 33 feet 10 inches, according to the coroner’s office. The cause of death was listed as multiple injuries.

Michelle Weiss-Samaras, the chief deputy coroner for the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, said THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was the only substance found in their tests.

“No booze,” Weiss-Samaras said. “The only thing he had was THC, pot. He had the cookie.”

One of the other NWC students who was over 21 — the legal minimum age to buy marijuana in Colorado — purchased some pot cookies, she said. Thamba and the other student, a woman, both ate some of the cookies, and, according to his friends, he reacted poorly to the drug.

According to the autopsy report, he pulled objects from the hotel room walls and began speaking “erratically.” They tried to calm him down, and had some success, as he went to bed.

But then Thamba jumped up, ran out of the room and jumped over the balcony.

“He had an adverse reaction,” Weiss-Samaras said. “His whole being changed. He was erratic and obviously upset. And he ended up running out and he went over. It wasn’t a suicide. Nobody thought there was issues. He just went over.”

The female student got very sick from eating a cookie, she said.

Thamba, a native of the Republic of Congo, started taking classes at NWC as an exchange student in January. He was on spring break when he died.

NWC President Stefani Hicswa said she received a copy of the coroner’s report shortly after she was contacted by the Tribune on Wednesday.

“The Northwest College campus community continues to grieve Levy’s death. All of us are deeply saddened by this event and feel for his family,” she said.

“The loss of Levy was tragic,” said Sean Fox, NWC vice president for students.

Fox said the trip was not sponsored by the college.

Thamba’s death is the first publicized fatality since recreational marijuana sales became legal in Colorado in January.

While it now is legal for anyone 21 and over to use marijuana or possess up to an ounce of marijuana for any purpose in Colorado, marijuana possession and use by people under 21 who aren’t medical-marijuana patients remains against the law.

According to a report in the Denver Post, an autopsy determined the marijuana concentration in Thamba’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. In impaired driving cases, state law sets a standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter at which juries can presume impairment, the Post reported.

Diane Ballard, a grant media specialist with Park County Coalition to Prevent Drug Abuse, said that organization is a year and a half into a five-year grant that focuses on preventing alcohol and prescription drug abuse among youth.

However, Ballard said the coalition is working up plans to add an education component about marijuana use.

“Given the fact that this has been legalized an a neighboring state, what we are seeing is a reduction in the perception of risk” associated with using marijuana, Ballard said.

But those risks are real. They include cognitive effects and addiction, particularly with youth, she said.

“One of the challenges with this legalization (is that) there have not been safe limits communicated, like we do with alcohol, about single usages or over time. We don’t have those things in place right now for marijuana.

“In this case, with a cookie, there can be very potent doses out there, and it can be very dangerous.”

Ballard said the coalition is in the process of gathering data and researching “so we know what to present to the public.”

Police have not released the findings of their investigation. Mary Dulacki, a records coordinator for the Denver Department of Safety, said more details may be released in a few weeks.

Weiss-Samaras said she doesn’t expect any charges to be filed.

“It’s an accident,” she said. “It’s very sad.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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3 comments

  • posted by grerald johnson

    April 04, 2014 8:15 pm

    what we have here is someone contributing to a minor and no charges are being fillied!!!So you gonna let someone off who buys alchol and contributes to a minor and the minor dies! NO its simply not an accident! makin a huge deal of it all over the papers and charges havent even been filed aginst the the one who gave it too a minor...lets just blame marijuana...Something is not adding up here! Ive never ever ever herd of someone having a violent reaction to marijana, and marijuana stimulates makes one wanna rest and sleep, not bounce up and run off a balcony, sorry but this is not right...Id for one press charges aginst the contributor, than id start looking towards the retailer that sold the cookies cause i can bet that there was something done to the cookie or brownie that was eaten regardless of what the otopsy says..This happen cause someone contributed to a minor!! sorry but the one who was the contribtor to a minor is at fault, so lets stop blaming marijuana! Lets let the facts do the blameing... Im 51 years old and I have never herd of anyone dieing or let alone jumping off a balcony to there death from pot use.

  • posted by Levi R

    April 04, 2014 5:03 pm

    If a Marijuana cookie could CAUSE this kid to jump off a balcony, there would have been major carnage in all universities for almost 50 years.

  • posted by Biggamehunter222

    April 03, 2014 5:11 pm

    Pretty loaded article imo...

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