Family members have identified an Oak Ridge woman who fell into the fountain at the Civic Center in June and died in the hospital 13 days later.
Sarah Christine McAdams, 26, was found floating face down in the murky brown water, which is about 14” inches deep, on June 3. Two people reported the incident to the Civic Center staff, while a third tried to pull McAdams out of the water, city officials said.
Rescuers tried to resuscitate her immediately, and McAdams, who lived on Manhattan Avenue in the Woodland neighborhood, was rushed to Methodist Medical Center, city officials said at the time, without identifying the woman.
She died June 16, according to records provided by her mother, Lori Holt, of Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., which is south of Myrtle Beach.
Six months later, Oak Ridge officials still haven’t publicly identified McAdams. On Dec. 6, Oak Ridge Police Department Chief Jim Akagi said the case is still under investigation. Officers are waiting for toxicology test results that are part of a University of Tennessee autopsy report, and those can take several months, the chief said.
He said the police department was not releasing the victim’s name pending the autopsy, and he couldn’t comment on how long McAdams had been at MMC in June—or the nature of the investigation.
“We’ll have to wait for the autopsy,” Akagi said.
Holt has reached out to reporters, hoping to learn more about her daughter’s death. She first learned of it through a short two-sentence obituary that her sister, Sarah’s aunt, found on Tributes.com on Sept. 25 and confirmed with relatives.
It was several days before Holt herself had the strength to read the obituary. She said she hadn’t been previously alerted to the incident at the Oak Ridge Civic Center, the hospital stay, or her daughter’s death.
Holt, who last talked to her daughter in 2008, said she got chest pains when she finally read the obituary.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said.
A few weeks later, she received the death certificate, and that triggered a whole new set of feelings.
“It’s been horrible; it’s been awful,” Holt said.
Since then, she’s collected 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.
But Holt’s request for a copy of the Oak Ridge police report was denied.
“I have received information from Oak Ridge Police Department that the police report is still open pending receipt of final medical records and, therefore, is not available at this time,” City Clerk Diana R. Stanley said in a Nov. 22 letter to Holt. “The city will resume communication with you regarding these requested documents once the Police Department has received the aforementioned documents.”
Akagi was not available for follow-up questions on Monday.
Holt provided copies of the death certificate and forensic report to Oak Ridge Today. They call the death an accident and list the probable causes as inhalant abuse, collapse into water, and drowning. They say the injury was caused by inhaled keyboard cleaner.
But Holt said her daughter tested negative for everything at the hospital except for cannabinoids, and that didn’t appear to be from recent use.
“Everything else was negative,” she said.
Holt is running a memorial with a photo for her daughter in the Greensboro Record in North Carolina. McAdams graduated from high school there in 2005. The first memorial ran Sunday, and two more are scheduled to run on Dec. 22 and Christmas.
Holt said her daughter, who was born Oct. 10, 1986, in High Point, N.C., and cremated this year, had wanted to be a medic when she was younger. When she was younger, McAdams had lived in Browns Summit, N.C., with her paternal grandparents and spent part of 2006 in the U.S. Navy, Holt said.
She last talked to her daughter when Sarah lived in Decatur, Tenn. But Holt and her sister, Sarah’s aunt Elizabeth Wadford, had decided to make a concerted effort to try get in touch with McAdams this fall.
“We needed to settle the breach,” Holt said.
Oak Ridge Today was unable to locate McAdams’ father, Roger Odell McAdams, who at one time had an address listed on Buttermilk Road in Kingston. Sarah’s paternal grandfather, Robert McAdams, briefly talked to Oak Ridge Today late last week, but declined to discuss his granddaughter in response to additional questions.
In the meantime, Holt continues to seek answers.
“I just want to find out what happened that day,” she said. “I want people to know, and I want to know why.”
Note: This story was last updated at 10:05 a.m. Dec. 17.