Fact Check

2004 Darwin Awards

Does an Internet-circulated list titled '2004 Darwin Awards' detail actual demises?

Published Jul 26, 2005

Claim:   Internet-circulated list titled "2004 Darwin Awards" details actual demises.

Status:   Two real entries, the others are fiction.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

Darwin Awards 2004

Yes, these are all true. They are finally out again. It's an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid way. Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine which toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it. And the nominees this year in reverse order are:

7. A young Canadian man, searching for a way of getting drunk cheaply, because he had no money with which to buy alcohol, mixed gasoline with milk. Not surprisingly, this concoction made him ill, and he vomited into the fireplace in his house. This resulting explosion and fire burned his house down killing both him and his sister.

6. A 34 year old white male found dead in the basement of his home died of suffocation, according to police. He was approximately 6' 2" tall and weighed 225 pounds. He was wearing a pleated skirt, white bra, black and white saddle shoes, and a woman's wig. It appeared that he was trying to create a schoolgirl's uniform look. He was also wearing a military gas mask that had the filter canister removed and a rubber hose attached in its place. The other end of the hose was connected to one end of a hollow tube approx. 12" long and 3" in diameter. The tube's other end was inserted into his rectum for reasons unknown, and was the cause of his suffocation. Police found the task of explaining the circumstances of his death to his family very awkward.

5. Three Brazilian men were flying in a light aircraft at low altitude when another plane approached. It appears that they decided to moon the occupants of the other plane, but lost control of their own aircraft and crashed. They were all found dead in the wreckage with their pants around their ankles.

4. A 22 year old, Glade Drive, Reston, VA, man was found dead after he tried to use octopus straps to bungee jump off a 70 foot railroad trestle. Fairfax County police said Eric Barcia, a fast food worker, taped a bunch of these straps together, wrapped one end around one foot, anchored the other end to the trestle at Lake Accotink Park, jumped and hit the pavement. Warren Carmichael, a police spokesman, said investigators think Barcia was alone because his car was found nearby. "The length of the cord that he assembled was greater than the distance between the trestle and the round" Carmichael said. Police say the apparent cause of death was "Major trauma."

3. A man in Alabama died from rattlesnake bites. It seems that he and a friend were playing a game of catch, using the rattlesnake as ball. The friend, no doubt a future Darwin Awards candidate, was hospitalized.

2. Employees in a medium sized warehouse in west Texas noticed the smell of a gas leak. Sensibly, management evacuated the building, extinguishing all potential sources of ignition; lights, power, etc. After the building had been eacuated, two technicians from the gas company were dispatched. Upon entering the building, they found they had difficulty navigating in the dark. To their frustration, none of the lights worked. Witnesses later described the sight of one of the technicians reaching into his pocket and retrieving an object that resembled a cigarette lighter. Upon operation of the lighter like object, the gas in the warehouse exploded, sending pieces of it up to three miles away. Nothing was found of the technicians, but the lighter was virtually untouched by the explosion. The technician suspected of causing the blast had ever been thought of as 'bright' by his peers.


1. Based on a bet by the other members of his threesome, Everitt Sanchez tried to wash his own "balls" in a ball washer at the local golf course. Proving once again that beer and testosterone are a bad mix, Sanchez managed to straddle the ball washer and dangle his scrotum in the machine. Much to his dismay, one of his buddies upped the ante by spinning the crank on the machine with Sanchez's scrotum in place, thus wedging them solidly in the mechanism. Sanchez, who immediately passed his threshold of pain, collapsed and tumbled from his perch. Unfortunately for Sanchez, the height of the ball washer was more than a foot higher off the ground than his testicles are in a normal stance, and the scrotum was the weakest link. Sanchez's scrotum was ripped open during the fall, and one testicle was plucked from him
forever and remained in the ball washer, while the other testicle was compressed and flattened as it was pulled between the housing of the washer, and the rotating machinery inside. To add insult to injury, Sanchez broke a new $300 driver that he had just purchased from the pro shop, and was using to balance himself. Sanchez was rushed to the hospital for surgery, and the remaining three some were asked to leave the course. This last one wouldn't normally count, because the idiot didn't die. But because he cannot reproduce as a result of his qualifying act of stupidity, we have allowed it.

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 throw "Darwin Award" to our search engine, it will find them all for you.

Contrary to 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 site.

DarwinAwards.com does its best to separate the wheat from the chaff, identifying for its readers which of its stories are factual and which are not. 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 unknown persons.

Of the seven gruesome accounts given in the "Darwin Awards 2004" e-mail, five fail to check out, but two are real. One entry that stands up to scrutiny is the sorry tale of a Reston, Virginia, man who foolishly taped a selection of store-bought bungee cords together, then used them to bungee jump off a 70-foot railroad trestle. The entry (#4 on the list given in the "Example" section above) is accurate in its details, the death occurring on 12 July 1997.

The other valid entry concerns the rattlesnake used in a game of catch in Alabama. On 6 September 1995, two alcohol-fueled fools took it upon themselves to toss a rattlesnake back and forth between them by its tail. Not liking the game, the snake let both of them have it. 35-year-old Joe Buddy Caine lost his life in this pursuit, while his companion, Junior Bright, had to be hospitalized.

The alleged winner of the 2004 award (which we discuss in detail on this page) is one of the false accounts. Though its fictional victim merely injures himself, according to the rules governing the Darwin Awards (as outlined in The Darwin Awards by Wendy Northcutt, published in 2000), he would have been eligible for the prize even though he survived:

To win, nominees must significantly improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race in an astonishingly stupid way. [...] The prime tenet of the Darwin Awards is that we are celebrating the self-removal of incompetent genetic material from the human race. The potential winner must therefore render himself deceased, or at least incapable of reproducing.

As for the others, though we've searched high and low, we could not locate substantiation for the stories about a vomiting Canadian, mooning Brazilian high-fliers, an anally intubated cross-dresser, or the technicians in Texas who used a lighter to check for a gas leak.

The tale about the three Brazilians who lost control of their aircraft and crashed while attempting to moon the occupants of another plane mirrors a scenario advanced by Alan Diehl, the Air Force's chief civilian safety official from 1987 until his removal from that post in 1994. He claimed two of the three Navy airmen who lost their lives in the 1989 crash of an F-14 in Arizona had removed their clothes and were attempting to moon another F-14. Navy spokesman Cmdr. Stephen Pietropaoli said the Navy's legal review of the case concluded the airmen died of lack of oxygen after they took off their masks for what the report termed a ''stunt'' and turned off the plane's oxygen supply to cut down on the noise. An autopsy report said the pilots were recovered fully clothed. All of the charges made by Diehl of cover-ups of the true causes of aircraft accidents were investigated by the Pentagon, with the Pentagon's inspector general announcing in 1997 that he had dismissed the allegations.

A rewording of the 2004 missive's opening claim that "Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine which toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it" prefaced the first Darwin Award account we saw back in 1991.

Barbara "soda coda" Mikkelson

Last updated:   3 July 2010


  Sources Sources:

    Allen, Mike.   "Reston Man, 22, Dies After Using Bungee Cords to Jump Off Trestle."

    The Washington Post.   13 July 1997   (p. B2).

    Northcutt, Wendy.   The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action.

    New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. 2000.   ISBN 0-525-94572-5.
  (p. 2).

    Spencer, Thomas.   "A Deadly Game of Catch."

    The Anniston Star.   7 September 1995.

    Weiner, Tim.   "Air Force Officer Accuses Military of Crash Cover-Up."

    Austin American-Statesman.   24 June 1995   (p. A2).

    Albuquerque Journal.   "Pentagon Drops Charges of Kirtland Coverup."

    19 April 1997   (p. B1).

    The Tuscaloosa News.   "Snake Bites Two; One Man Dies."

    9 September 1995.