One day after a friend found the bodies of "Buckwild" star Shain Gandee, his uncle David and friend Donald Robert Myers inside a truck partially submerged in mud, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office announced the partial findings from the autopsies performed on the three men.
"The manner of death is accidental and the cause was carbon monoxide poisoning for all three subjects," according to a statement from the Sheriff's office. Though the final results of the autopsies are still pending, early indications were that the 21-year-old "Buckwild" castmember and his passengers had been overcome by carbon monoxide inside the vehicle.
Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is found in combustion fumes such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline-powered engines, stoves and lanterns.
"If it is produced in an enclosed space such as a home or, in some cases, the cabin of a vehicle, the person exposed to it can experience illness or death," Jay Dempsey, a health communications specialist with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention told MTV News on Monday.
Though Dempsey had no first-hand knowledge of the cause or details of Gandee's case, he said common symptoms of CO poisoning include: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. At higher levels it can also cause loss of consciousness or death.
When Gandee was reported missing on Sunday, his friends were apparently worried enough to go searching for him themselves and it was one of those friends who eventually found the bodies of Gandee, his uncle David and Myers inside Shain's Ford Bronco.
According to a statement from the sheriff's office to MTV News, Shain Gandee was in the driver's seat of the Bronco, which had to be removed from a mud pit by a bulldozer, and the vehicle's muffler was completely submerged in mud.
Speculation had centered on the possibility that the submersion of the truck's tailpipe in mud could have caused the vehicle's cabin to fill with CO, which appears to have been the case.
Dempsey explained that red blood cells carry oxygen through a person's body, but they pick up CO more quickly than they do oxygen. So, when a person is exposed to CO, the gas effectively blocks the red blood cells' ability to get oxygen into the bloodstream, causing the body to replace that vital oxygen with CO, leading to the above-mentioned symptoms.
"It's difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms mimic other illnesses," said Dempsey. "So a person who is nauseous might think they are getting a cold or flu." If you are sleeping, or intoxicated, you may die from CO exposure before ever experiencing symptoms.
Dempsey said the speed with which CO poisoning's effects are felt can vary depending on a person's age, overall health and he amount of CO that is being introduced into the environment, or how small that space is. He said that 450 people die from unintentional CO poisonings every year, and another 20,000 visit emergency rooms due to CO exposure.
A spokesperson for MTV said in a statement, "We are shocked and saddened by the terrible news about Shain Gandee, and those involved in this tragic incident. We are waiting for more information but at this time, our main concern is for the Gandee family and their friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Shain had a magnetic personality, with a passion for life that touched everyone he met and we will miss him dearly."