The mourning family of a young mum are in disbelief at a coroner’s verdict that her “drug related” death has been recorded as the first ever case of its kind in the UK.
Terrilee Sanderson of Peckham was 24 years-old when she went to bed on Sunday, August 30 and never woke up, leaving behind her now two-year-old son Oliver.
Her death came after a girls’ night out in a Shoreditch nightclub on Saturday, August 29, where she had taken what she believed was MDMA – a powdered form of ecstasy – and cannabis.
Terrilee was discovered in bed at her Aylesbury Estate flat after her cousin Aaron Wikoff knocked on her door at 4pm on the Monday morning.
Terrilee’s mum, Pam Clowsley also rang her daughter that morning, and said she “knew something was wrong” when Terrilee didn’t pick up the phone.
The “caring, happy and bubbly” young Terrilee, who loved music, dancing and pie and mash, was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital and it wasn’t for five days before Pam was given permission to see her daughter’s body.
Initial evidence following her death had shown a build-up of fluid in one of her lungs. Her family were also suspicious that her complaints of a chest infection in the weeks prior could have suggested there was more to Terrilee’s death than recreational drug use.
A hearing into the cause of Terrilee’s death on March 10 concluded that her death had been caused by her consumption of drugs, but the details of the case left her family “disappointed” and unconvinced.
The senior coroner Andrew Harris concluded, after hearing detailed evidence from a pathologist and toxicologist, that Terrilee had unknowingly taken a version of ecstasy containing a different psychoactive chemical called “ethylone”.
A general practitioner, Dr Marnerides, told the court that the ethylone-based “MDEA” Terrilee had taken had reacted with cannabis she had taken earlier before leaving for the club on August 29. The combination of the drugs, Dr Marnerides said, gave the “extremely rare” result of causing her to “either suffer a cardiac arrest or for her heart to fail” during her sleep the following day.
Working with toxicologist, Dr Paterson, the GP referred to the only two related deaths they could find in their research, both involving a fatal outcome of revellers accidentally mixing MDEA and cannabis in the American city of San Diego.
His analysis found 0.04 milligrams of “ethylone” in Terrilee’s blood and 2.2 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. A “very similar” combination of the drugs were found in one of the San Diego cases that doctors Paterson and Marnerides were referring to.
Based on the evidence from Dr Marnerides, and from Terrilee’s loved ones about her health and behaviour before her death, Mr Harris concluded that “on the balance of probability” Terrilee had “died of heart failure” as a result of the drugs she took. But whether the combination of the drugs, or just one, had caused a cardiac arrest, or a respiratory arrest remains unknown.
Another complication in the coroner’s investigation had been judging when precisely Terrilee had died.
The last piece of evidence to show when Terrilee had still been alive was data confirming she had been active on social media on Sunday at 2.30pm.
Due to the amount of time between her death and her autopsy on September 3, pathologists had been unable to pinpoint the time of her death. Mr Harris was forced to concede he had no way of concluding whether she had died on August 31 or the evening before, when she went to bed for the last time.
Speaking after the hearing, Terrilee’s auntie June Wikoff told the News: “We’re not taking it too good, it’s terrible.
“If what they’re saying is really true then she’s the first person in the country to have died this way.
“We’re not convinced they really knew how Terrilee died, but they have just put it down to drugs. We think they should put it as ‘unknown’.
“Why didn’t Terrilee’s friends have the same thing when they took exactly the same drugs? It feels like no one cares when you’re dead though. It’s been really hard for Pam, a lot of her feelings are resurfacing.”
Terrilee’s funeral was held on October 27 at Camberwell New Cemetery Chapel, which saw her body transported there from her mum’s house in a horse-drawn carriage.