North Carolina

Chapel Hill man found dead in NC surf had dangerously high alcohol level, autopsy says

Red flags indicate dangerous currents off Carolinas beaches.
Red flags indicate dangerous currents off Carolinas beaches.

A 69-year-old man whose body washed ashore in North Carolina had a life-threatening amount of alcohol in his system, officials say.

Thomas James (Jimmy) Dickerson of Chapel Hill was found dead in April near a tourist boardwalk in Carolina Beach, The News & Observer has reported.

Now, autopsy results obtained Wednesday say his cause of death was drowning and that alcohol was a “contributing factor.”

His blood-alcohol concentration was 0.36, according to his toxicology report.

“At this level of blood ethanol, he was definitely impaired and could have easily passed out,” the autopsy says.

A blood-alcohol level of 0.31 or higher is considered life-threatening, as people may lose consciousness and “vital life functions,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Drinking is a risk factor for drowning, and “alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

“Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat,” according to the CDC.

In Dickerson’s case, investigators say his drowning death was accidental, the Wilmington Star News reports. His family also called him a “strong swimmer,” according to the newspaper.

“Jimmy loved the beach, and the ocean was his favorite place to swim,” his obituary says. “Periodic trips to the coast refreshed and reinvigorated his spirit.”

Dickerson’s body was found days after two high school students from Wake Forest were caught in a rip current near Emerald Isle and died, according to The News & Observer.

Carolina Beach is about 12 miles south of Wilmington.

With summer approaching and weather warming, it's time to keep these water safety tips in mind, as provided by the Placer County Sheriff's Office.