Report: Woman who fell into fountain and died had been ‘huffing,’ witness says

Oak Ridge Civic Center Fountain

The Oak Ridge woman who fell into this fountain at the Civic Center on June 3 and died in a hospital 13 days later had been spotted “huffing” a can of keyboard cleaner next to a tree in the park, possibly just minutes before she was found floating face down in the water, authorities said.

The 26-year-old woman who fell into a fountain at the Oak Ridge Civic Center on June 3 and died in a hospital 13 days later had been spotted “huffing” a can of keyboard cleaner next to a tree in the park, possibly just minutes before she was found floating face down in the water, authorities said.

After she was pulled from the fountain, rescuers tried CPR on Sarah Christine McAdams, but she was unresponsive and given only a 10 percent chance of surviving the first night at Methodist Medical Center, hospital staff told Oak Ridge Police Department Detective Kevin Craig.

On June 6, ORPD Detective David Stephens reported that McAdams, who had lived on Manhattan Avenue in Woodland, had been placed in an induced coma and had not been able to communicate. She died at the hospital on June 16, according to a copy of the death certificate provided by her mother, Lori Holt, of Murrell’s Inlet, S.C.

McAdams’ boyfriend, William Miller, told police that she had been “huffing duster, and that he had tried everything to get her to stop,” according to an ORPD report released this week. McAdams had visited Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services in Oak Ridge, and they had developed a treatment plan for her, Miller said.

Sarah Christine McAdams

A copy of the memorial that Lori Holt ran for her daughter Sarah Christine McAdams in the Greensboro Record in North Carolina this month.

After the initial police and fire department response on June 3, the scene was turned over to the ORPD Criminal Investigations Division. On Friday, city officials said the case is closed.

The death was ruled accidental, according to both the death certificate and a Regional Forensic Center report. The reports said the probable causes were inhalant abuse, collapse into water, and drowning.

In his report, Stephens said a can of Dust Destroyer compressed air that had been pulled from the water on June 3 was entered into evidence, along with two brown sandals. He said there were no signs of assault on McAdams’ body.

Her fall into the fountain was reported at about 2:30 p.m. Monday, June 3. Several officers who responded wrote brief reports, including Maxwell H. Smith and Nathan Stinnett.

Stinnett said a library patron first spotted a flip-flop, and then McAdams, floating in the water. The man, Timothy Bunn, rushed over to pull her out of the water, which is 14” deep, with the help of two Oak Ridge Civic Center employees, Stephen Stone and Robin Miner. A third city worker, Karl Reedy, joined them, and Stone and Reedy started CPR, the report said.

McAdams’ name hadn’t been officially released until this week, although Holt had recently contacted local reporters, identifying her daughter and saying she hoped to learn more about her death. She said she hadn’t been notified of McAdams’ hospital stay or death. Since learning about it through an online obituary, Holt has received records of her daughter’s final days, including 1,124 pages of medical records from Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, a case report from the Regional Forensic Center in Knoxville, and a death certificate from the Tennessee Office of Vital Records.

Holt said her daughter, who was born Oct. 10, 1986, in High Point, N.C., and cremated after her death in June, had wanted to be a medic when she was younger. Her occupation on her death certificate was listed as caregiver.

McAdams had an internship at Walter Reed Medical Center while still in high school, set a track record, and received a grant allowing her to go to any North Carolina college. But there had been troubled times as well, according to her mother. Holt said she and her ex-husband, Sarah’s father, separated in May 1988 and last saw each other in a courtroom in 2000, when McAdams, who was 14 at the time, went to live with her paternal grandparents in Browns Summit, N.C.

McAdams had used drugs in the past, but tested negative for everything at the hospital except for cannabinoids, and that didn’t appear to be from recent use, Holt said. She said her daughter had seemed “mentally disoriented” after a bad reaction to vaccinations during a brief stint in the U.S. Navy in 2006 and an alleged sexual assault.

Holt said she was last able to speak to her daughter in 2008 when Sarah lived in Deactur, Tenn. She said a man with whom her daughter lived wouldn’t let the two of them talk. But she had hoped to get in touch with her daughter this fall in an attempt to “settle the breach.” She said she and her sister, Sarah’s aunt, would do a Google search for McAdams every few months and last found her apparently living in Lenoir City in May. McAdams had also lived in Oak Ridge in the mid-2000s, Holt said.

“I feel horrible that she could have been here with me, and she could have been safe,” Holt said. “She could have gotten help for emotional problems, substance problems.”

Holt ran a memorial for McAdams in the Greensboro Record in North Carolina this month. Sarah graduated from high school there in 2005.

Oak Ridge Today was unable to locate Sarah’s father, Roger Odell McAdams, earlier this month. He was listed as the “informant” on the death certificate and had a Kingston address. Another relative declined to discuss McAdams’ death.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 28.


Join the club!

If you support Oak Ridge Today, please consider becoming a voluntary subscriber. You don't have to subscribe to read our stories, but your contribution will help us grow and improve our coverage.

We currently offer three subscription levels: $5, $10, or $25 per month. We accept payments through PayPal. You may also visit our subscription page for information on other options.

Thank you for your support.

Subscription options


Commenting Guidelines

We welcome comments, but we ask you to follow a few guidelines:
1) Use your real name, including last name.
2) Be civil. Don't insult others, attack their character, or get personal.
3) Stick to the issues.
4) No profanity.
5) Keep your comments to a reasonable length and to a reasonable number per article.

We reserve the right to remove any comments that violate these guidelines. More information is available here.

  • Sam Hopwood

    There are very few families, including my own, that have not been touched by drug or alcohol abuse. Very sad.

    • johnhuotari

      I agree, Sam.

  • Rob Woodward

    Very sad, sounds like she had a promising future. This is why I never like it when people talk about “harmless” drugs. The only drug in her system was marijuana.

    • Thomas Dyke

      I guess Colorado had better start fencing off all their fountains then.

More Police and Fire News

More Police and Fire