The Fayette County Coroner's Office has ruled the death of a 5-year-old Lexington boy who drank "a lethal amount" of vinegar a homicide, the coroner said.
Joseph Maoping Adams was pronounced dead Dec. 3 at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. The coroner ruled the death a homicide after autopsy results were returned last week. Joseph's cause of death was "ingestion of vinegar," according to a news release from the coroner's office.
Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said during a news conference Friday that the boy apparently was given "a lot" of vinegar. He would not estimate how much.
"The child did not drink that much vinegar on his own accord," Ginn said. "Because of the amount, because of it being lethal, our manner of death ruling on this is going to be homicide."
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No one has been charged. Homicide means a death was caused by another person, although not all homicides are considered criminal.
Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said police started investigating after Joseph's death. She said officers think the vinegar was "administered by his parents."
Roberts did not identify Joseph's parents. However, according to an obituary that ran Dec. 6 in the Herald-Leader, Joseph was the son of Rick and Deah Adams. He was born in 2006 in Hangzhou, China. Ginn said he thought the child was adopted.
Phone calls to a listed number for a Ricky and Deah Adams were not answered.
Roberts said investigators think the boy had an existing medical condition.
Vinegar is occasionally used as a home remedy for minor ailments or to induce vomiting, but poison-control experts say it does not work and is not recommended.
"There is no medical center or poison-control center anywhere that recommends vinegar," said Henry Spiller, board-certified toxicologist and director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center. "You would have to go back to texts from the 1920s.
"It is really essentially something no one practicing today would recommend."
Spiller is not involved in the Lexington case. Speaking in general terms, he said it "would be very difficult" to poison someone with vinegar.
Roberts said "only medical professionals" could determine whether the boy's existing medical condition was related to his death.
Roberts said police are treating the case as a death investigation. She said it was early in the investigation because the coroner had ruled the death a homicide only last week.
Joseph apparently became unresponsive at his Woodlawn Way home, according to the news release. He was brought by ambulance to the hospital's pediatric emergency unit, where he was pronounced dead about 7:15 p.m. Dec. 3.
The case was presented to the coroner's office because "there was some suspicion from the emergency department about this death," Ginn said.
The coroner said he had presented his findings on the case to police. The case can go "several different routes" from there, he said.
"They can contact (Commonwealth's Attorney) Ray Larson and present it to a grand jury, ... but at this point, it's really early, and I'm not exactly sure what they're going to do," he said.
Ginn, who has been coroner since 2003, said he had never seen a case in which the cause of death was vinegar.