Wyoming college student plunges to death from Denver hotel balcony after eating marijuana cookie

Coroner: Marijuana intoxication factor in death

DENVER - The Denver Medical Examiner says marijuana laced cookies played a role in the death of a 19-year old Wyoming College student, who fell to his death while on spring break in Denver.

Levy Thamba Pongi, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was studying to be an engineer at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.

Investigators say he and three friends drove to Denver over spring break, and that they were staying at the multi-story Holiday Inn at 33rd Avenue and Quebec Street.

According to the autopsy report, Thamba Pongi ate several marijuana cookies early March 11 and then began exhibiting hostile behavior.

His friends told investigators that Thamba Pongi began “pulling items off the walls,” and spoke erratically.

They said they tried to calm him down and thought they were successful, but he soon jumped out of bed, ran out to the hallway and jumped over the balcony falling four stories to the atrium floor below.

The teen died from massive injuries, including multiple skull fractures.

"Marijuana intoxication is a significant contributing factor" in the death, the autopsy report states.

“This is a very atypical reaction to marijuana,” said Dr. Scott Bentz, medical director of the emergency department at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center. “Marijuana typically, whether it’s inhaled or eaten, does not typically affect impulse control in this way.”

Bentz said marijuana can unmask other tendencies, but that it usually sedates people or suppresses their respiratory system.

Tests show Thamba Pongi's marijuana intoxication level was 7.2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. THC is the drug's active ingredient. Under a Colorado law that took effect in 2013, the threshold for a driving under the influence of marijuana violation is 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter.

“I wish I could tell you more about what that means,” Bentz said, “but the 5 nanogram cutoff was an arbitrary decision by the state. I don’t know of any good studies that correlate THC levels in the blood with clinical levels of intoxication.”

Thamba Pongi and the three friends who tried marijuana with him at the hotel were all Northwest College students from foreign countries, said Michelle Weiss-Samaras, the medical examiner's director of operations.

"They come here for spring break to try marijuana. They were young kids," Weiss-Samaras told 7NEWS. A girl in Thamba Pongi's group became ill after trying the marijuana cookies.

Investigators believe Thamba Pongi was trying a youthful experiment that went tragically wrong.

"I don't think he knew what he was doing. From what our investigators learned, he obviously had an adverse reaction it. It's just really sad," Weiss-Samaras said.

“It was very surprising and very tragic,” said Emelee Volden, Multicultural Program manager at Northwest College. “It’s quite difficult to wrap your head around thinking of what may have contributed to such a tragic incident.”

Volden told 7NEWS that Thamba Pongi started school in Powell in late January.

“He hadn’t been here very long,” she said. “but he made a positive impression and he excelled in his classes.”

Volden said Thamba Pongi’s family is very upset.  She said she has been in contact with them and is trying to help them facilitate getting his remains sent back home.

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