Alcohol not leading factor in fire deaths

RALEIGH, N.C. – Six out of the seven college students killed last month in a beach house fire had alcohol in their systems, although a prosecutor said he doesn’t believe drinking played a role in the deaths.

The blood-alcohol levels ranged from .16 percent to .29 percent, Dr. John Butts, the state’s chief medical examiner, said Friday. The legal limit for driving in North Carolina is .08 percent, and Butts said the alcohol levels may have affected the students’ coordination and “their ability to respond.”

But Brunswick County District Attorney Rex Gore dismissed the suggestion that drinking contributed to the deaths. He noted there was no trace of alcohol in the seventh victim. Six other students staying at the house were able to escape the blaze, and at least two did so by jumping from a window.

“It’s a tragedy when they have those levels of alcohol,” Gore said. “But I haven’t seen anything to indicate that was a major contributing factor to the fire or to the chances of survival.”