Fact Check

2003 Darwin Awards

Does the '2003 Darwin Awards' list detail actual deaths?

Published May 4, 2006

Claim:   Internet-circulated list entitled "2003 Darwin Awards" details actual deaths.

Status:   A number of real entries, one unknown, and one fiction.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2006]

In case you have been waiting breathlessly for this year's Darwin Awards, here they are. The awards this year are, once again, truly classic.

These awards are given each year to bestow upon (the remains or estate of) that individual, who through single-minded self-sacrifice, has done the most to remove undesirable elements from the human gene pool. Just think...until these events, these same people were walking the streets like normal people.


Goes to a San Anselmo, California man who died when he hit a lift tower at the Mammoth mountain ski area while riding down the slope on a foam pad. 22-year old David Hubal was pronounced dead at Central Mammoth Hospital. The accident occurred about 3 a.m., the Mono County Sheriff's department said.

Hubal and his friends apparently had hiked up a ski run called Stump alley and removed some yellow foam protectors from lift towers, said Lt. Mike Donnelly of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department. The pads are used to protect skiers who might hit towers. The group apparently used the pads to slide down the ski slope and Hubal crashed into a tower. It has since been investigated and determined the tower he hit was the one with its pad removed.


Goes to Robert Puelo, 32, was apparently being disorderly in a St. Louis market. When the clerk threatened to call the police, Puelo grabbed a hot dog, shoved it into his mouth and walked out without paying. Police found him unconscious in front of the store. Paramedics removed the six-inch wiener from his throat where it had choked him to death.


Goes to poacher Marino Malerba of Spain, who shot a stag standing above him on an overhanging rock and was killed instantly when it fell on him.


"Man loses face at party." A man at a West Virginia party (probably related to the winner last year, a man
in Arkansas who used the .22 bullet to replace the fuse in his pickup truck) popped a blasting cap into his mouth and bit down, triggering an explosion that blew off his lips, teeth, and tongue. Jerry Stromyer, 24, of Kincaid, bit the blasting cap as a prank during the party late Tuesday night, said Cpl. M.D. Payne. "Another man had it in an aquarium hooked to a battery and was trying
to explode it. It wouldn't go off and this guy said I'll show you how to set it off." He put it into his mouth, bit down and it blew all his teeth out and his lips and tongue off, Payne said. Stromyer was listed in guarded condition Wednesday with extensive facial injuries, according to a spokesperson at Charleston Area Medical Division. "I just can't imagine anyone doing something like that," Payne said.


Doctors at Portland University Hospital said an Oregon man shot through the skull by a hunting arrow is lucky to be alive and will be released soon from the hospital. Tony Roberts, 25, lost his right eye last weekend during an initiation into a men's rafting club, Mountain Men Anonymous (probably known now as Stupid Mountain Men Anonymous) in Grants Pass, Oregon. A friend tried to shoot a beer can off his head, but the arrow entered Robert's right eye. Doctors said that had the arrow gone 1 millimeter to the left, a major blood vessel would have been cut and Roberts would have
died instantly. Neurosurgeon, Doctor Johnny Delashaw, at the University Hospital in Portland said the arrow
went through 8 to 10 inches of brain with the tip protruding at the rear of his skull, yet somehow managed to miss all major blood vessels. Delashaw also said that had Roberts tried to pull the arrow out on his own he surely would have killed himself.

Roberts admitted afterwards that he and his friends had been drinking that afternoon. Said Roberts, "I feel so dumb about this." No charges have been filed, but the Josephine County district attorney's office said the
initiation stunt is under investigation.


(The late) John Pernicky and his friend, (the late) Sal Hawkins, of the great state of Washington, decided to attend a local Metallica concert at the George Washington amphitheater.

Having no tickets (but having had 18 beers between them), they thought it would be easy to "hop" over the nine foot fence and sneak into the show. They pulled their pickup truck over to the fence and the plan was for Mr. Pernicky, who was 100 pounds heavier than Mr. Hawkins, to hop the fence and then assist his friend over.

Unfortunately for (the late) Mr. Pernicky, there was a 30-foot drop on the other side of the fence. Having heaved himself over, he found himself crashing through a tree. His fall was abruptly halted (and broken, along with his arm) by a large branch that snagged him by his shorts.

Dangling from the tree with a broken arm, he looked down and saw some bushes below him. Possibly
figuring the bushes would break his fall, he removed his pocket knife and proceeded to cut away his shorts to free himself from the tree. Finally free, Mr. Pernicky crashed into holly bushes. The sharp leaves scratched his ENTIRE body and now, without the protection of his shorts, a holly branch penetrated his rectum. To make matters worse, upon landing his pocket knife penetrated his thigh.

Hawkins, seeing his friend in considerable pain and agony, threw him a rope and tried to pull him to safety by tying the rope to the pickup truck and slowly driving away. However, in his drunken haste, he put the truck into reverse and crashed through the fence landing on his friend and killing him.

Police arrived to find the crashed pickup with its driver thrown 100 feet from the truck and dead at the scene from massive internal injuries. Upon moving the truck, they found John under it half-naked, scratches on his body, a holly stick in his rectum, a knife in his thigh, and his shorts dangling from a tree branch 25 feet in the air.

Congratulations gentlemen. You win. And some more idiots have been removed from the gene pool.

Origins:   "Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it, showing us just how uncommon common sense can be," says Wendy Northcutt of DarwinAwards.com. Darwin Awards stories are tales that are presented as factual


accounts of the demises of people who managed to end their lives in fantastically stupid ways. Some are
works of fiction (e.g., the man who died in his sleep from breathing his own farts), some are relatively accurate recountings of actual events (e.g., the lawyer who fell through a skyscraper window while attempting to demonstrate how safe that fixture was), and a handful are wildly embellished versions of true stories (e.g., the "pumping" death of a 13-year-old boy in Thailand was not, as the e-mailed account would have had it, due to his having sought a sexual thrill, but happened as a result of a practical joke played upon him by two 15-year-old co-workers.) On snopes.com we chronicle a number of stories that have at various times wended their way through the online world presented as Darwin Award items — if you enter the phrase "Darwin Award" into our search engine, it will find them all for you.

Contrary to common belief, there is no panel of distinguished judges weighing each potential Darwin Award entry then sagely reaching agreement as to which deserves an official accolade. Darwin Awards e-mails have been circulating on the Internet at least since May 1991, with the earliest e-mails and newsgroups posts of this nature setting before posterity inventive works of fiction that had been labeled by their authors as true accounts of actual deaths. Years after the term "Darwin Award" was being used in connection with text descriptions of deaths by misadventure, a number of web sites sprung up to archive the variety of Darwin Award tales then in circulation. Those sites not only collected the fictional offerings then making the online rounds but also on their own dug up numerous true accounts of death by stupidity, thus building a vast body of such tales, some true and some not. While other sites have since faded into obscurity, one has emerged as the clear winner: DarwinAwards.com, a site owned and maintained by Wendy Northcutt. Ms. Northcutt has since authored three highly successful books based on her


The various "Annual Darwin Awards" e-mails (such as the one which is the topic of this article) do not originate with DarwinAwards.com; they are put together by persons unknown. The distinction between "Darwin Awards" stories versus "dumb criminals" tales or just generic "stupid people" yarns is lost on some of those anonymous anthologizers, so not every entry in such compilations would qualify under the rules laid out by DarwinAwards.com (i.e., that subjects' boneheaded acts cause them to be removed from the gene pool).

Surprisingly, a number of the incidents described on this particular list actually happened.

However, we begin this examination with one where the books are still open. The veracity of the 5th runner-up story, about a young man who met the Grim Reaper when the foam pad he was sliding down a ski hill on struck the lift tower the pad had been stripped from, is something we haven't yet confirmed. While the item has been circulated online since at least 1996, and the name of the lad who supposedly slid himself to death was Matthew David Hubal (rather than just David Hubal, as the list above describes him), we haven't turned up any news stories supporting such an occurrence. While some of the places we've looked have helpfully pointed towards checkable sources within the print media (e.g., The Guardian, Sacramento Bee, Associated Press), our searches through those news outlets failed to turn up any articles about the death, and searches of other news sources met with similar results. Our own scribbled notes from 1998 indicate a date of death for Matthew David Hubal of 25 March 1994, yet this long after the fact, our memory fails as to where that date came from.

However, while we can't confirm that particular death, we know others have died in such fashion. On 17 February 1996, 26-year-old David Dehaven met his end in such fashion after using a bumper pad purloined from a lift tower as a sled. His improvised toboggan crashed into a padded boundary post at Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado.

On 4 February 2008, the makeshift sledge British vacationer David Monk was riding at a resort in the Italian Alps crashed into safety barriers at the foot of a ski slope, killing him. The sledge had been fashioned from the foam barrier encasing the ski lift tower that proved Monk's undoing.

One of the true tales is that of the 4th runner-up, the account of a man who stole a hot dog only to choke to death on it. The 32-year-old Robert Puelo did indeed end his days as described on 10 October 1994. Paramedics who attempted to save his life did retrieve a six-inch length of frankfurter from his throat after he died, plus three smaller chunks of the dog, similarly lodged.

Unverified (at least at this time) is the tale presented as the 3rd runner-up, that of the unfortunate poacher done in by the animal he shot when it landed on him. While a brief mention of this story did appear in a newspaper's round-up of unusual stories from 1993, no other supporting evidence has so far appeared. And even that brief mention changed the story a bit in claiming that the poacher went to his final reward in England, not Spain.

The 2nd runner-up account of a lad who succeeded in his attempt to set off a blasting cap by biting down on it is another strange-yet-true tale. On 18 March 1986, a 24-year-old man named Jerry Stromyer did indeed blow off his lips, teeth and tongue in this manner.

Also true is the 1st runner-up, the story of a fellow who took an arrow in his noggin when he allowed a friend to attempt to shoot a beer can off his head. On 1 May 1993, the 25-year-old Anthony Roberts lost his right eye to this male-bonding misadventure and almost lost his life in the bargain. The unemployed carpenter did in fact state at a press conference afterwards, "I feel stupid."

However, the entry identified as "This Year's Winner" is naught but fiction. The story about an attempt to crash a Metallica concert gone woefully wrong has been kicking about the Internet since 1997, sometimes as a stand-alone tale, and sometimes as an item added to other lists of "dumb people" anecdotes. Numerous searches done in 1997 and in the years since have failed to turn up as much as an obituary in support of this yarn. While absence of evidence is not usually conclusive proof of falsehood, if dying with a stick of holly up your ass doesn't get your name in the paper, nothing will.

Barbara "good golly, missed holly!" Mikkelson

Last updated:   23 August 2009

  Sources Sources:

    Barry, Dave.   "William Tell Had Nothing on These Guys in Action."

    Austin American-Statesman.   10 May 1995   (p. F9).

    Hughs, Ina.   "Tidbits of 1993: Tennessee Jesus, JFK Bullet Tribute."

    Knoxville News-Sentinel.   3 January 1994   (p. A2).

    Pisa, Nick.   "Briton Dies After Night of Sledging High Jinks in Alps."

    The Express [UK].   18 February 2008.

    Soto, Natalie.   "Man Dies After Sliding Into Ski-Area Post."

    Rocky Mountain News.   18 February 1996   (p. A30).

    Associated Press.   "Blasting Cap Explodes in Man's Mouth at Party."

    19 March 1986.

    Associated Press.   "Man Shot Through Skull with Arrow Survives with No Brain Damage."

    5 May 1993.

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   "Man Chokes on Hot Dog He Stole."

    12 October 1994   (p. B2).