Autopsy report filed in trolley accident

Accident, prior medical condition cited in study of woman's death
Dec. 08, 2012 @ 01:04 AM

The autopsy for a Michigan woman who died in The University of Tennessee Medical Center after a trolley accident in Gatlinburg indicates she died of heart disease, but that other factors, including injuries from the wreck, played a part in her death.

Eunice Spencer, 66, of Fowlerville, Mich., died 11 days after the trolley in which she was riding overturned on Labor Day as it drove down Buckhorn Road. The trolley driver tried to pull to the side of the road to avoid an oncoming car, and the ground under the vehicle collapsed, causing it to roll onto its top and throwing Spencer and a second passenger from their seats.

Spencer suffered broken ribs and other injuries in the accident, and was taken to The University of Tennessee Medical Center.

She died Sept. 14, 2012, when she stopped breathing after hospital personnel tried to treat her for pneumonia using a chest tube.

The final autopsy report, filed by Dr. Christopher Lochmuller, says Spencer “died of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

“Other conditions that significantly contributed to death are obesity, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, blunt chest trauma, emphysema and asthma. The manner of death is accident.”

While Spencer’s condition improved to the point she was moved from the Intensive Care Unit by Sept. 8, she suffered several complications over the ensuing days and died Sept. 14.

“The ongoing stress related to the blunt chest trauma exceeded the physiologic reserve of Ms. Spencer’s underlying chronic heart and lung disease, leading to her death,” Lochmuller concluded.

Spencer actually spoke to The Mountain Press in a phone interview Sept. 10, two days before she died.

She said she and a friend, 61-year-old Roxanne Dean of Brown City, Mich.., were the only passengers in the trolley. They came to Gatlinburg after attending a wedding in Raleigh, N.C., over the holiday weekend, and were riding to the Glades Road arts and crafts community when the wreck happened.

“We were talking about the places we wanted to visit and we heard (the driver) say this car is coming kind of fast I’ll just go kind of closer to the edge,” she said during that interview. “As soon as he pulled closer to the edge, it started to slide, the trolley did, and it tipped over on its side and it tipped over again so we were left on the (ceiling) of the trolley.”

Dean was treated and released at LeConte Medical Center. The driver of the trolley, 48-year-old Phillip Bowman, of Sevierville, told personnel at the scene that he didn’t need medical treatment.

The city changed the route taken by that trolley after the accident, reversing the direction of travel so the trolley won’t be on the same side of the road where the collapse occurred.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com