(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Denver coroner cites marijuana cookies in Wyo. college student’s fatal fall

A Wyoming college student visiting Denver on spring break fell to his death after consuming marijuana cookies, the Denver medical examiner’s office says.

Levy Thamba, a 19-year-old student at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., who was also known as Levi Thamba Pongi, fell to his death last month from the balcony of a Holiday Inn in northeast Denver. On Wednesday, the Denver coroner said Thamba’s death was caused by “multiple injuries due to a fall from height.”

The coroner also listed “marijuana intoxication” from marijuana-infused cookies as a significant condition contributing to the death. The report lists the death as an accident.

A brief summary of the investigation included in the autopsy report says Thamba traveled to Denver with three of his friends on spring break. While here, the report says Thamba consumed “marijuana cookies” and “soon thereafter exhibited hostile behavior (pulling items off the walls) and spoke erratically.”

“The decedent’s friends attempted to calm him down and were temporarily successful,” the report states. “However, the decedent eventually reportedly jumped out of bed, went outside the hotel room, and jumped over the balcony railing.”

Thamba and his friends were staying on the hotel’s fourth floor, according to the report.

Michelle Weiss-Samaras, a spokeswoman for the coroner’s office, said Thamba had no known physical or mental-health issues, and toxicology tests for other drugs or alcohol came back negative.

“We have no history of any other issues until he eats a marijuana cookie and becomes erratic and this happens,” she said. “It’s the one thing we have that’s significant.”

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According to the autopsy report, Thamba’s marijuana concentration in his blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. In impaired driving cases, state law sets a standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter at which juries can presume impairment.

Weiss-Samaras said one of Thamba’s friends became ill after eating one of the marijuana cookies, which she said investigators believe was purchased legally in a Colorado recreational marijuana store.

“We were told they came here to try it,” she said.

Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, which regulates marijuana stores, confirmed that the agency is cooperating with police on the investigation. But she said she couldn’t provide more information because the investigation is ongoing.

Denver police have not yet finished the investigation, so more details and reports about the case have not been released. It remains unclear how much of the marijuana-infused product Thamba consumed or how long after consuming it that he died.

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Thamba’s death is the first publicized incident that authorities have linked to marijuana intoxication since legal sales of recreational marijuana to people over 21 began in Colorado in January. Weiss-Samaras said the coroner’s office will often list alcohol intoxication as a significant contributing factor in a death — for instance, in an alcohol-related car accident — but she said she believes this is the first time it has listed marijuana intoxication from an edible product in such a way.

Thamba, who was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, started taking classes at Northwest College in January. During his few months at the college, Thamba made many friends, and his death was felt across the campus, school officials said.

“It’s shocking, so sad,” Emelee Volden, the intercultural program manager at the college told the Powell Tribune last month. “He made such an impression in so short an amount of time.”

Thamba was studying engineering at the college, which has about 2,000 students and is located 75 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

“The Northwest College campus community continues to grieve after Levy’s death,” a school statement released Wednesday stated. “All of us were deeply saddened by this tragic incident and feel for his family.”

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/john_ingold

This story was first published on DenverPost.com