Kenneka Jenkins' death ruled accidental; alcohol, drug found in system
Finding: Kenneka Jenkins also had alcohol, prescription drugs in system
The mother of Kenneka Jenkins filed a legal motion Friday asking that the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare hotel in Rosemont be ordered to preserve evidence surrounding the death of the 19-year-old in an unused hotel freezer last month. The request occurred on the same day the Cook County medical examiner's office released a statement ruling Jenkins' death an accident.
The court filing includes some details that had not been disclosed previously, including that Jenkins froze to death and that she died in an unused freezer in an abandoned kitchen on the first floor.
In the motion, attorneys for Jenkins' mother, Tereasa Martin, claim "as many as 20-plus" underage people were at the party Jenkins attended and that the hotel knew about it because a hotel employee went to the room and spoke to one or more of partygoers.
Shortly after the motion was filed, the medical examiner's office released a statement that Jenkins' death was an accident, noting she had a blood alcohol level of .112 but did not have any "date rape drugs" in her system. The examiner's office did, however, find topiramate, a medication used to treat epilepsy and migraines, which family members said she had not been prescribed. Officials said alcohol and topiramate can combine to cause extreme dizziness, impaired memory, concentration, poor coordination and impaired judgment.
"The substantial factor in this death is cold exposure," the medical examiner's office said in a news release. "The alcohol and drug found in Ms. Jenkins' system combined with cold exposure can hasten the onset of hypothermia and death."
Jenkins body was found in an empty but operating 34-degree freezer on Sept. 10. The medical examiner's office said she was discovered in the freezer about 21 hours after video surveillance documented her entering it.
The examiners said that "there is no evidence, per the police investigation, that Jenkins was forced to consume the alcohol or the drug" or that there was another person near the freezer with her. The examiner's office also said there was no evidence of trauma or physical abuse.
In a statement, Crowne Plaza spokesman Jim Martinez said hotel officials have already preserved all evidence requested by attorneys, including videos and documents.
"We wish to express our condolences to the family and friends of Kenneka Jenkins," he added. "Today's Cook County medical examiner report, which found the young woman died accidentally, must be confusing and difficult for all who knew her. Her death has stunned our company and saddened employees."
Martin's motion asks that the hotel be ordered to preserve records including surveillance recordings, produce a list of those working at the hotel either as employees or independent contractors, and keep records of the purchase and installation of the freezer.
The freezer was in a kitchen that had ovens and stoves removed and where wooden doors were built across the opening to the freezer, the motion states. The doors could be padlocked but were not, the motion claims.
Rosemont police are still investigating.
In a press release issued Friday, police said that authorities have identified the two people who originally checked into the Crowne Plaza for the party and are trying to find them.
Rosemont police said the woman who booked the room is believed to be Shaniqua Watkins, who is wanted on a change of theft/unauthorized use of a credit card.
Anyone with information regarding Watkins' whereabouts should call Rosemont police at (847) 823-1134
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.