The Daily Debunker brings you the top stories on Snopes.com.
Claim: Internet-circulated list titled “2006 Darwin Awards” details actual deaths.
Status:Multiple — see below.
Example:[Collected via e-mail, July 2006]
2006 Darwin Awards
They’re in, In case you haven’t received them yet, here are this year’s Darwin Awards — the annual honor given to the person who improved the “gene pool” the most by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid way. As always,competition this year has been keen. And the candidates this year are …
#1 IN Detroit, a 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in two feet of water after squeezing head first through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate to retrieve his car keys.
#2 A 49-year-old San Francisco stockbroker, who “totally zoned” when he accidentally jogged off a 100-foot-high cliff on his daily run.
#3 Buxton, NC: A man died on a beach when an 8-foot-deep hole he had dug into the sand caved in as he sat inside it. Beach-goers said Daniel Jones, 21, dug the hole for fun, or protection from the wind, and had been sitting in a beach chair at the bottom Thursday afternoon when it collapsed, burying him beneath 5 feet of sand. People on the beach on the outer banks, used their hands and shovels, trying to claw their way to Jones but could not reach him. It took rescue workers using heavy equipment almost an hour to free him while about 200 people looked on. Jones was pronounced dead at a hospital.
#4 Santiago Alvarado, 24, was killed in Lompoc, CA, as he fell face-first through the ceiling of a bicycle shop he was burglarizing. Death was caused when the long flashlight he had placed in his mouth (to keep his hands free) rammed into the base of his skull as he hit the floor.
#5 Sylvester Briddell, Jr., 26, was killed in Selbyville, Del, as he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger.
#6 Paul Stiller, 47, was hospitalized in Andover township, NJ, and his wife Bonnie was also injured, when a quarter-stick of dynamite blew up in their car. While driving around 2 AM, the bored couple lit the dynamite and tried to toss it out the window to see what would happen, but apparently failed to notice the window was closed.
#7 TACOMA, WA Kerry Bingham had been drinking with several friends when one of them said they knew a person who had bungee-jumped from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the middle of traffic. The conversation grew more heated and at least 10 men trooped along the walkway of the bridge at 4:30AM. Upon arrival at the midpoint of the bridge they discovered that no one had brought a bungee rope. Bingham, who had continued drinking, volunteered and pointed out that a coil of lineman’s cable lay nearby. One end of the cable was secured around Bingham’s leg and the other end was tied to the bridge. His fall lasted 40 feet before the cable tightened and tore his foot off at the ankle. He miraculously survived his fall into the icy river water and was rescued by two nearby fishermen. “All I can say” said Bingham, “is that God was watching out for on that night. There’s just no other explanation for it.” Bingham’s foot was never located.
AND THE WINNER:
#8 Overzealous zookeeper Friedrich Riesfeldt (Paderborn, Germany) fed his constipated elephant Stefan 22 doses of animal laxative and more than a bushel of berries, figs and prunes before the plugged-up pachyderm finally let it fly, and suffocated the keeper under 200 pounds of poop! Investigators say ill-fated Friedrich, 46, was attempting to give the ailing elephant an olive oil enema when the relieved beast unloaded on him. “The sheer force of the
elephant’s unexpected defecation knocked Mr. Riesfeldt to the ground, where he struck his head on a rock and lay unconscious as the elephant continued to evacuate his bowels on top of him” said flabbergasted Paderborn police detective Erik Dern. “With no one there to help him, he lay under all that dung for at least an hour before a watchman came along, and during that time he suffocated. It seems to be just one of those freak accidents that proves that “Shit happens!”
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 “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 sprang 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.
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 eight items that make up the “Darwin Awards 2006” e-mail, six of them would qualify for consideration for such a prize (because the foolhardy persons who star in those tales kick the bucket), but in two of them that central figure is merely injured, making those accounts ineligible for that honor.
As is the norm for such Internet-circulated lists, “Darwin Awards 2006” e-mail, is a mixed bag — there are some actual incidents accurately chronicled, one that we know is an out-and-out fake, and a handful of others that we can’t yet authoritatively prove or disprove. Interestingly, while this compilation purports to be the 2006 list, all of its entries date from 1995 through 1998.
Entry #7 (the drunk who lost a foot bungee jumping with cable off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge) is fiction. It was penned by Edward Martin III and used as the 4th entry in his “The Top Ten ‘What, No Pictures?!’ ER Stories of 1995” humor offering. From there it found its way into a 1998 newspaper-published list of stupid deaths that also presented as true incidents both the “Failed Suicide” legend and the “Breasts Injure Four” fiction, the latter of which even darwinawards.com disavowed.
Entry #5 (the fellow whose friends bet him he wouldn’t place a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger) has proved resistant to confirmation: while it appears in an April 1997 “News of the Weird” column (which places the mishap in Selbyville, Delaware, in February 1997), it has resisted our efforts to confirm through any other source. However, we did find an entry in the Social Security Death Index that corresponded to the name, age, and state given in the tale and listed a date of death of 26 February 1997.
Entry #1 is one of the accurate ones. On 28 September 1996, 41-year-old Ray Langston squeezed through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate in Detroit to try to retrieve his car keys. He became pinned headfirst in a hole and drowned in two feet of water.
Entry #2 (the “totally zoned” stockbroker who ran off a cliff) was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996:
Family members say San Francisco stockbroker Jack Sullivan followed a pattern in his life, and the one day he broke the routine it killed him.
A beautiful San Francisco day persuaded Sullivan to take his normal Sunday jog a day early on a different route. The path he chose below the Lincoln Park golf course was a treacherous one, and Sullivan apparently misjudged it.
Witnesses saw him jog down the coastal trail next to the 17th hole, turn and run off the cliff at the Eagle Point overlook. His body was found 200 feet below.
[Sullivan’s wife] said she was convinced her husband hadn’t committed suicide, saying he was happy with his life and had made plans to play golf with a friend the following day.
A more likely explanation, she said, is that her husband wasn’t concentrating on the path because he was collecting his thoughts and making plans.
“Jack totally zoned when he ran,” Catherine Sullivan said. “He usually ran with a little tape recorder that he would talk into, because that’s how he got his ideas.”
Entry #3 is also accurate. Daniel Jones, a 21-year-old resident of Woodbridge, Virginia, died on 7 August 1997 when the 8-foot-deep hole he’d dug at the beach on the Outer Banks in Buxton, North Carolina, collapsed on him, burying him under 5 feet of sand. Though numerous beachgoers tried to dig him out, they were unsuccessful, and workers using heavy equipment eventually freed him almost an hour later, by which time it was too late.
Entry #4 (the bicycle shop burglar done in by his own flashlight) is another the accurate ones. 25-year-old Santiago Alvarado was discovered dead on the floor of a bicycle shop in Lompoc, California, on 3 February 1997. He had apparently entered the shop through its roof. The flashlight found lodged in his throat had severed the second verterbrae in his neck and it is believed he died instantly from the injury.
Entry #6, the story of the clueless self-dynamiters, is true, says the Associated Press. Around 2 a.m. on the morning of 30 September 1996, Paul and Bonnie Stiller were injured by an explosion in their car when the quarter-stick of dynamite Paul was holding went off in his hand. The couple’s plan had been to light the stick and throw it from the car window, but alas, they lit the explosive before rolling down the window. Mrs. Stiller was treated then released, but Mr. Stiller was admitted to Newton Memorial Hospital with unspecified injuries. The police report said the couple had been drinking, and Mrs. Stiller was charged with driving under the influence. The Stillers were both charged with possession of explosives in a vehicle, and police said two more quarter-sticks of dynamite were found at the couple’s home.
The final entry, the one dubbed “THE WINNER,” is a tale we delved into on this site long ago. While elephants may be able to produce a large amount of excretia, the sad account of the shat-upon zookeeper is naught but a piece of Weekly World News fiction from 1998. Our “Feces of Death” article tells all.
Barbara “jumbo whopper” Mikkelson
Last updated: 9 June 2012
Delgado, Ray. “Routine Jog Turned Deadly for S.F. Broker.”
San Francisco Chronicle. 8 October 1996.
Utter, Cindy. “Dead Body Discovered by Worker.”
The Lompoc Record. 3 February 1997 (pp. A1 & A3).
Utter, Cindy. “Bike Shop Casualty Identified.”
The Lompoc Record. 4 February 1997 (pp. A1 & A3).
Associated Press. “Couple Injured After Dynamite Explodes in Car.”
Gettysburg Times. 1 October 1996 (p. A9).
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “Beachgoer Dies After Hole He Dug Collapses on Him.”
10 August 1997 (p. B5).
The Lompoc Record. “Coroner Completes Alvarado’s Autopsy.”