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Houston drowned in hot water, coroner says

Heart disease and cocaine use contributed to the Grammy winner's death, final report concludes. An expert says the amount of coke was not at a toxic level.

April 05, 2012|By Andrew Blankstein and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Whitney Houston showed signs of heart disease and cocaine use, the coroner's office says.
Whitney Houston showed signs of heart disease and cocaine use, the coroner's… (Matt Sayles / Associated…)

The coroner's investigation into the death of Whitney Houston came to a close Wednesday with a final autopsy report that described the singer submerged face-down in hot water in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills hotel suite with a unidentified white powdery residue left in a spoon on the bathroom counter.

The report released Wednesday confirmed that the 48-year-old singer drowned in a bathtub, with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors. It concluded that Houston's death was accidental.

A personal assistant found her dead in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the report said. The water was described as "extremely hot," and the singer had scalding burns when she was examined.

Houston was last seen alive by her personal assistant Feb. 11 between 2:45 p.m. and 3 p.m., the report stated.

The singer had complained of having a sore throat in the days leading up to her death. Before the assistant left, she told Houston to "take a bath to start getting ready for tonight," referring to a pre-Grammy party thrown by her mentor, producer Clive Davis.

The personal assistant left to pick up items at Neiman Marcus and returned to the locked hotel room at 3:36 p.m. When she went into the bathroom, she found Houston face-down and unresponsive in the tub, the report stated.

She called out to a bodyguard, the report stated, and they pulled Houston out of the bathtub. The assistant ran to call the front desk and told them to call 911.

On a counter in the bathroom, investigators found an ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a "small spoon with a white crystal-like substance in it, and a rolled-up piece of white paper." They also found prescription drug bottles on the counter and a small plastic bag that had been ripped open. In a drawer, they found a portable mirror with more remnants of a white, powdery substance. Coroner's officials said they did not test the powder, saying that was a job for police. The Beverly Hills Police Department did not release any information about the substance Wednesday.

Houston had battled drug addiction for years, and the report found that she had a perforation in her nose typical of habitual cocaine users. Toxicology test results showed that she had cocaine in her system at the time of death. The coroner's office also found traces of several other drugs — including marijuana, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril as well as Benadryl — in her system.

Dr. Nachman Brautbar, a toxicologist and professor emeritus at USC who reviewed the toxicology report, said the level of cocaine in Houston's system was not at a toxic level. He estimated that she had taken the cocaine two hours or more before getting in the tub.

Brautbar said none of the drugs on their own were at a toxic level, but the combination might have contributed to her losing consciousness and slipping under water.

"The combination was toxic for her," he said.

The release of the report also means that police will be able to wrap up their investigation into Houston's death. Lt. Mark Rosen, a spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department, said the investigation had been on hold pending release of the final coroner's report.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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