19-year-old woman dies after she got stuck inside walk-in freezer at a Chicago hotel where she was partying
The 19-year-old was found dead inside a freezer at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel on September 10, 2017, but her family insists that there was foul play involved
The family of a Chicago teen who died of hypothermia after stumbling into and getting stuck inside a hotel's walk-in freezer is suing the hotel for $50 million. 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins was found dead inside a walk-in freezer at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel on September 10, 2017, after she had reportedly been partying with friends on the ninth floor two nights prior, and her parents are alleging negligence on the part of the hotel.
While the medical examiner ruled out foul play and stated Jenkins died accidentally of hypothermia due to cold exposure in the freezer and highlighted her intoxicated state as a significant contributing factor, the 19-year-old's family insists there was foul play involved in the teen's death.
According to the Daily Mail, the lawsuit contains new claims about the circumstances of Jenkins' death, claiming that while the hotel had other walk-in freezers that were kept locked and out of reach of the public, the freezer the 19-year-old was found in was unsecured and had "a sticker affixed that was completely faded and failed to instruct how to release the lock system of the door."
However, the claim may not hold up in court since police investigations found that the interior mechanism to release the door from the inside — which involved pushing a circular handle to release the latch — was working without any problems.
A spokesman for the Crowne Plaza told the Chicago Tribune in a statement that the hotel was going to fight the lawsuit, saying, "The death of Kenneka Jenkins was a tragedy, but the proximate cause of her death were the unsavory individuals who used a stolen credit card to book a room and host an illegal party which Ms. Jenkins attended. Those criminals escaped the hotel before police arrived and have never truly been held accountable. This lawsuit has no merit and we will vigorously contest it."
The unusual manner of her death had prompted speculation of foul play and friends who were with Jenkins that fateful night said they had received death threats from people who suspected they had somehow harmed the teen, with one even revealing she had to move to another city to escape the constant harassment.
But all signs point towards her death being a combination of some poor judgment and unfortunate luck. One of the teen's friends revealed she had seen the 19-year-old drink cognac at the party, a claim that was corroborated when a toxicology screening found her blood alcohol level to be above the legal limit for driving. And while Jenkins' mother said she was not on any medication, the examiner also found topiramate — a prescription migraine and epilepsy medication that can cause drowsiness and confusion — in her body.
Surveillance footage further rules out the possibility of foul play. Video from the night shows Jenkins leaving the hotel elevator at around 3:20 a.m. and struggling to maintain balance as she stumbled around the hallways and kitchen of the hotel where she would later be found dead. While the footage doesn't show the exact moment the 19-year-old walked into the freezer, investigators believe she did so when she walked out of the frame.
Her body would only be found almost two days later, lying face down on the side of the freezer, after her parents filed a missing person report. One of her shoes was off, though there were no visible injuries to her body except for a small cut to her feet.
Despite most signs pointing towards an accidental death, her family has insisted that there are oddities about the case. The Mail reports that police also later released dozens of reports and witness statements in a bid to dispel the conspiracy theories swirling around the case, though it seems to have done little to pacify her parents considering this most recent lawsuit.
Watch the surveillance footage from the night here: