A Florida medical examiner has ruled the hot tub death last year of Michael Moses Ward, once known as Birdie Africa, was a drowning due to extreme intoxication.
Thirteen-year-old Birdie Africa was one of only two survivors when a 1985 Philadelphia police assault on the radical group MOVE sparked a fire that killed 11 people, including Birdie’s mother.
He went to live with his father and took the name Michael Moses Ward. He served in the army, married, divorced and worked as a long-haul trucker.
He died in September while he was on a cruise with his extended family. He was found unconscious in a hot tub on the Carnival Dream Cruise ship and pronounced dead in the ship’s infirmary. An autopsy report by the Brevard County medical examiner concludes the cause of his death was “drowning due to acute ethyl alcohol intoxication.”
The examiner found “no gross physical trauma,” but a blood alcohol level of 0.156.
Dr. Mike DeAngelis, director of clinical operations for Temple University’s emergency department said in a phone interview that’s not an alcohol level likely to cause unconsciousness, but that falling asleep in a tub while intoxicated could be dangerous.
“Falling asleep while under the influence of alcohol in a hot tub could be enough that you don’t wake up immediately, and then you start to choke on some water, and the next thing you know you’re not able to breathe effectively and you drown,” DeAngelis said.
Michael Ward was 41 years old.
Efforts to reach his father, Andino Ward, were unsuccessful. He told Philadelphia Magazine in an interview earlier this year that Michael seemed happy on the cruise, which the family had taken to celebrate wedding anniversaries for Andino, his daughter and her in-laws.
You can read my reflections on Michael Ward’s death last September here.