Spontaneous Human Combustion Case: M.E. Suggests Man Fell on Cigarette

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An eastern Oklahoma man’s death in February has been ruled the result of a heart attack, after the county sheriff initially said he believed spontaneous human combustion was to blame, according to the medical examiner’s report released Tuesday.

Danny Vanzandt, 65, of Muldrow, likely died of a heart attack after which his body was burned, possibly by a cigarette, the report states.

“The lack of soot within the airway and a negative carboxyhemoglobin level within the procured blood sample suggests death prior to the fire,” the medical examiner’s report states. “These findings are not consistent with someone breathing in smoke in the moments preceding death.

The autopsy report goes on to state that Vanzandt suffered from moderate to severe coronary artery disease.

“The findings of the examination are most consistent with the decendent dying (likely of this heart condition) and then being involved posthumously in the fire which consumed most of his body,” the report states.

Vanzandt’s body was almost completely consumed by fire before being found. His body weight at the medical examiner’s office came in at 40 pounds, according to the autopsy report.

Vanzandt’s charred body was found in his home on South 4700 Road on Feb. 18. At the time, Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart said the signs pointed to spontaneous human combustion as the cause of death, since no nearby items or furniture around the body were burned.

There was no other fire damage to the house and no signs of a struggle, Lockhart said.

“One plausible scenario involves the decedent collapsing and dying (likely due to the coronary artery disease noted at autopsy) on the kitchen floor at which time a lit cigarette ignites the decedent’s clothing and burns long enough to split the skin and release adipose tissue onto the clothing and floor and this adipose tissue then becomes the primary fuel source for the fire,” the report states.

The man’s manner of death was ruled as natural.

The idea of the Oklahoma man dying from rare spontaneous human combustion placed Vandzant’s death in national headlines. A researcher with ParaScience International visited Muldrow to study Vandzant’s death in March.

Click here to read more about the investigation.