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Infection May Have Caused Marine's Death

December 07, 1985|CHRIS DE LUCA | Times Staff Writer

Preliminary findings in the autopsy of a San Diego Marine boot camp graduate who died suddenly Nov. 28 aboard a commercial airliner reveal the man may have died of complications from an infection near his lungs, according to a county coroner in Phoenix, where the airliner made an emergency stop.

Pfc. Cary J. Freel, 18, graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Nov. 22 and had scored well above average on a Marine physical fitness test just days before. He was traveling home to Michigan when he was found dead in a restroom aboard an American Airlines flight from San Diego, according to Maj. Stuart Wagner, MCRD spokesman. Freel had earlier complained to travel companions of a breathing problem.

Freed was found by a flight attendant slumped over a sink basin. Efforts to revive him failed. He was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Phoenix, where he was pronounced dead, according to Maj. Anthony Rothfork, a spokesman with the Marine Casualty Center in Washington.

Freel had scored 286 out of a possible 300 (the average is 265) on his final physical fitness test Nov. 16 at MCRD. Although the official cause of death will not be determined until results from toxicological tests are in, the county coroner's office in Phoenix said preliminary findings show Freel may have died from empyema of the left thorax, an infection near the lower lung. Deputy coroner Thomas Jarvis said fluid was found in the lower portion of Freel's left lung.

Freel had visited the MCRD medical clinic Nov. 26 complaining of a "stuffy nose," according to Navy Lt. Gene Eliott, public affairs officer for the Naval Medical Command Southwest Region. "He was examined, treated and told to return if the symptoms persisted."

There there is no record that Freel returned for further examination, Eliott said.

Robert Engel, a San Diego County deputy coroner, said Friday that empyema normally is a chronic, treatable condition and that sudden death from it would be unusual.

Freel had been transferred to the Naval Air Station in Memphis, Tenn., and was to have been trained as an aviation mechanic.

The 4th Marine Division in New Orleans is investigating Freel's death, Wagner said.

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