Coroner ties alcoholism to SF General stairway death


The family attorney says this entire case has been mismanaged from day one and that the autopsy report is just the latest example. Spalding's friends and family now know the cause of death as determined by the medical examiner.

Spalding, 57, was found dead in a locked stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital, 17 days after she was reported missing from her hospital room.

The medical examiner's report says Spalding died of "...probable electrolyte imbalance with delirium (clinical sepsis) while in stairwell… due to complications of chronic ethanolism (clinical history)."

Ethanolism refers to alcohol, which has the Spalding family attorney, Haig Harris, very upset. He told us, "Now that they've added this as a secondary cause of death -- acute alcoholism by history -- that is absolutely gratuitous and unnecessary. That is not why this lady died."

Harris also says the family was supposed to receive the medical examiner's report before the media, which he says wasn't the case on Friday.

"I certainly will pursue through various avenues that there be some investigation into the way this particular case has been handled, whether it's through a regulatory agency or through a grand jury," said Harris.

Some of Spalding's friends tell me they're angry because they feel the report blames the victim, saying Spalding would still be alive had the hospital not lost her. And they say they still don't really know how Spalding died.

We went to Dr. Thomas Shaughnessy, M.D., with Sutter Heath to help explain the medical examiner's report. He told us, "The electrolyte imbalances in combination with a liver whose inability to compensate for them, resulted in a collapse of her heart or her brain resulting in death."

San Francisco General tells us, "We have not yet had a chance to review the report, but we hope that it can help the family and hospital better understand what happened."

Harris also says he vows to get answers for the family. He says there are several problems with the autopsy report, for example it says they did the autopsy on Oct. 5 and 6, but Spalding wasn't actually found until Oct. 8.

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.