I saw this story today of this guy who won a million bucks in the lottery and then died by cyanide poisoning – http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/01/08/authorities-investigating-after-tests-reveal-chicago-lottery-winner-died/.

Nothing strange about a guy winning the lottery, happens every day. Unfortunately, nothing really strange about a lottery winner being taken out by some jealous person anxious to get their hands on the winnings. I don’t know the statistics, but I’m sure it happens from time to time. What I found strange was the comment by the medical examiner.

“It’s pretty unusual,” said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina,  commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. “I’ve had one, maybe two cases  out of 4,500 autopsies I’ve done.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I would think a case of homicide due to cyanide poisoning would be really rare. I mean really rare. I don’t think that one or two out of 4,500 deaths is all that rare. Am I wrong here?

Cook County, IL is the second most populous county in the nation with over 5.3 million residents. An article in the Chicago Sun-Times found that over 41,600 people die every year in Cook County. So 4,500 deaths is just over 39 days worth in a given year. So Cook County sees a cyanide poisoning death every 39 days (or maybe even about 20 days as the examiner said “one or two”)? Wow, that seems a bit more than rare to me.

About 40 people die each year in the U.S. from being struck by lightning making the odds about one in a million of being hit. Now that’s my idea of rare. But one in a few thousand? Not so much.

I’m not trying to put forth any kind of conspiracy theory here, just that life in the big city must be a lot different, especially for a rural guy like myself. For a city that just rang up over another 500 homicides last year, I suppose dying in other ways than natural causes really is the norm. You may recall that Chicago was the locale of the infamous Tylenol poisonings of 1982 in which cyanide was involved. Seven people died as a result. Of course, the medical examiner reported that the ratio is 1/4,500 so nearly 10 die every year in Cook County from cyanide poisoning anyway based on his statement.

Turns out cyanide is actually pretty commonplace in our everyday lives and is probably a much larger factor in smoke inhalation fatalities than we ever knew. Here’s a good background paper if you want to learn more – http://ww.dead-planet.net/chemical-terrorism/med_cbw/Ch10.pdf.

As for me, I’m sticking with the good old rural life. Sure seems safer. Maybe a deer will jump out in front of my car and kill me. That happens a couple of hundred times a year out of the 43,000 fatalities annually in auto accidents. Wait a minute. That’s one out of every 215 auto related deaths due to deer. Hmmm, maybe Chicago isn’t so bad after all even with the cyanide…


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