Elena Struthers-Gardner, 60, was killed by a reusable metal straw when she collapsed onto it in her home in the southern coastal town of Poole last November.
A coroner’s inquest found that the straw, which was attached to what the Sun described as a “mason-jar style drinking glass with a screw-top lid,” pierced her left eye and penetrated her brain.
Mandy Struthers-Gardner, the retired jockey’s wife, described finding her on the floor in the kitchen on Nov. 22, 2018, making “unusual gurgling sounds.”
“Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar,” Struthers-Gardner said.
“I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance.
“While I was on the phone, Lena appeared to have stopped breathing. The lady on the phone asked me to turn her over.
“I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over. I could see the straw had gone through her left eye.”
The jockey was apparently prone to collapses since a riding accident when she was 21, which often left her falling over “like a sack of potatoes,” according to Struthers-Gardner. She was also dependent on alcohol for her pain, but the coroner’s inquest noted that none was in her system at the time.
Both the coroner and Elena’s wife insisted that care needed to be taken with the instruments.
“I just feel that in the hands of mobility challenged people like Elena, or children, or even able-bodied people losing their footing, these [straws] are so long and very strong,” Struthers-Gardner said.
“Even if they don’t end a life they can be very dangerous.”
“Clearly great care should be taken when using these metal straws,” assistant coroner Brendan Allen told the Daily Echo.
“There is no give in them at all. If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur.”
Allen also issued a key warning: The straws should not be used with any lid that holds them firmly in place.
”There is no give in them at all. If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur,” he said.
“It seems to me these metal straws should not be used with any form of lid that holds them in place. It seems the main problem here is if the lid hadn’t been in place the straw would have moved away.”
The United Kingdom plans to ban plastic straws starting in April of 2020, but for now, they’re legal. Whatever home users choose to supplant them with is, of course, up to them, and it’s unclear that this incident would have been averted with a different type of straw with more give in it.
However, as more plastic straw bans come into place, metal straws are obviously going to be a common replacement. So let this be a warning: These straws are not without their issues.
One metal straw manufacturer, The Lost Straw said, that their products “should not be used when walking, driving or operating machinery” and should never be used by children. In 2016, Starbucks recalled metal straws after they “received three reports in the U.S. and one in Canada of mouth lacerations to young children while drinking.”
In short, if you’re not in a situation where you can pay total attention, you have some sort of physical disability or your children are going to use the straws, metal replacements aren’t for you. Unless used properly, they can be hazardous. The death of Elena Struthers-Gardner serves as a sad illustration of just how serious that danger can be.
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