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M.E.: 'Intoxication' contributed to woman's airport death

  • Story Highlights
  • Medical examiner rules Carol Gotbaum died of "asphyxia by hanging"
  • Gotbaum died in custody at Phoenix airport in September on way to rehab
  • Surveillance video shows her screaming, struggling with police during arrest
  • Family says police should have treated her more humanely
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PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- The death of a woman in custody at the Phoenix airport in September was an accidental hanging, with contributing factors including "acute ethanol and prescription medication intoxication," according to a report released Friday.


Carol Gotbaum, in an undated family photo, died of accidental hanging, the medical examiner said Friday.

The report from the Maricopa County, Arizona, medical examiner rules the specific cause of Carol Gotbaum's death was "asphyxia by hanging."

Gotbaum was on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Tucson on September 28 when she missed her connection at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, flew into a rage and was arrested by police.

Airport surveillance video showed her arrest as police officers struggled to handcuff her and take her away. Video Watch as the woman is arrested »

She was accused of disorderly conduct and placed in a holding cell at the airport, where she continued to scream for several minutes after police left the room. Shortly after she stopped screaming, an officer found her unconscious.

Rescuers were not able to resuscitate her.

Phoenix police said she had tried to escape her handcuffs and somehow accidentally strangled herself. Video Watch what the medical examiner ruled »

The woman had been handcuffed behind her back, and those handcuffs were then attached to a shackle that was attached to a bench in the holding cell.

Family members maintain that police mishandled her situation and treated her inhumanely.

Her husband made at least three frantic calls to police in an attempt to warn them about her fragile mental state but was not able to reach them until after she had died.Video Listen as the husband pleads with police »

The police report on the incident said an officer smelled alcohol as rescuers tried to revive her. And on October 31, Phoenix police issued a a final report that cited a flight attendant on Gotbaum's flight from New York to Phoenix who said she saw Gotbaum with a Bloody Mary on the flight.


The report also states that when Noah Gotbaum was told of his wife's death he screamed, "they killed her, they killed her," an apparent reference to police.

The Gotbaum family has hired its own forensic pathologist who is conducting his own autopsy to determine how she died. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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