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Autopsy shows poisoning as cause of DUMC death

A recent Duke Hospital death was caused by a lethal combination of oxycodone and Benadryl.
A recent Duke Hospital death was caused by a lethal combination of oxycodone and Benadryl.

An autopsy released during winter break revealed that a woman who died at Duke University Medical Center was poisoned by a pain reliever and common antihistamine.

The autopsy determined that Cheryl Suber, 30, died from an overdose of oxycodone and diphenhydramine, an allergy medicine and sleep aid sold under the brand name Benadryl, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.

Suber was found unconscious in her hospital bed Oct. 5 and succumbed to cardiac arrest despite resuscitation attempts made by medical staff. The Duke University Police Department has completed its investigation and concluded that no crime was committed.

Hospital staff found two suspicious syringes in Suber’s bed that were labeled “saline” but contained a pink, opaque liquid.

According to a search warrant issued by the DUPD, “No one recognized what was in the syringe, but everyone felt that it was not a medication used on the unit.”

Suber was visited in her room on the day of her death by her boyfriend, David Bass, according to an affidavit filed as part of the search warrant. In an interview with police, Bass said he realized something was amiss and immediately notified Kimberly Turnage, a nurse who was working in the hallway. Turnage found Suber unconscious and without a pulse before activating a Code Blue alert and performing chest compressions.

A staff member said Bass entered Suber’s room 10 to 20 minutes before the Code Blue alarms went off, according to the affidavit.

“We can say that this appears to have been an isolated case and that no medical personnel were involved except in responding appropriately to the situation,” said DUPD Chief John Dailey in an October statement.

The criminal investigation was prompted by the concerns of Dr. Daniel Kaplan, an attending physician who was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death, according to the affidavit. No charges have been filed at this time.

Suber was frequently hospitalized because she had sickle-cell anemia but was not thought to be in life-threatening condition on the day she died. She left behind her parents, three siblings and a grandmother, the N&O reported.

“She’s no longer with us, and we don’t know why,” said Kevin Suber, her uncle, in a prepared statement released in October reported by the N&O.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that DUPD's investigation is ongoing. It has since concluded and DUPD found that no crime was committed. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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