The Horrifying Video of Woman on Her Way to Alcohol-Related Death

In September 2017, alcohol and an epilepsy drug contributed to the hypothermia death of a young woman.
Kenneka Jenkins (courtesy NY Senate website)

Saturday, September 9th, Kenneka Jenkins visited the Crowne Plaza O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois with a group of friends headed to a party on the ninth floor. But because this underage woman got drunk with those friends, she never made it home. Instead, she froze to death in an unused freezer in the hotel’s kitchen.

It has taken a month for authorities to piece together the full timeline and contributing factors in her death. At first, it was thought that she had been abducted because she could not be found anywhere. It took almost 24 hours for hotel staff to find her in the freezer.

Hotel and city officials have released video footage from the hotel’s surveillance system and it is horrifying footage to watch. As you see her staggering slightly as she walks with her friends down a hotel hallway, you know she has only a few hours left to her young life. The footage of her stumbling drunk and alone through an empty hallway, running into walls and railings, and then wandering through the kitchen is completely heartbreaking because you know she is stumbling to her imminent death.

There is no footage of her actually entering the freezer.

Toxicology Report: Alcohol and an Epilepsy Drug

The information just released on this case is the toxicology report from the coroner’s office. Her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .112—over the legal limit for driving. But for many people, this amount of alcohol would not cause the symptoms she showed in the video. According to the website of Be Responsible About Drinking, this level of alcohol use would typically cause these symptoms:

Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred; balance, vision, reaction time and hearing will be impaired.

Being as dazed and confused as Kenneka is a more typical reaction for a .20 BAC. It’s possible that the presence of the drug topiramate in her body was responsible for a more dramatic reaction to alcohol—one that directly contributed to her death.

Topiramate is a drug used to prevent epileptic seizures. It is also given for some types of migraines. According to her family, Kenneka did not have a prescription for this drug, but it is not usually misused for recreational purposes. Could she have been taking a friend’s prescription to prevent her own migraines?

Here’s a vital point about mixing topiramate and alcohol: Alcohol and topiramate are synergistic. Which means they can interact to create a stronger effect.

According to a news release: “When combined, the effect of either or both drugs is enhanced. Topiramate, like alcohol, can cause dizziness, impaired memory, impaired concentration, poor coordination, confusion and impaired judgment. Central nervous system depression, or impairment, combined with cold exposure can hasten the onset of hypothermia and death.”

A Tragic Way to Learn a Lesson

It should not be necessary for a beautiful young woman to lose her life in this way to teach us all a lesson about underage drinking and misusing prescription drugs. But taking this lesson is about the only good that can come from this loss.

What can we learn?

  • Parents must be vigilant about teaching youth about how easy it is to lose control of one’s very survival when drunk
  • They must also be very clear about the danger of using someone else’s medication
  • When doctors or printed materials warn of the hazards of mixing prescriptions or combining them with alcohol, these instructions must be noted and followed
  • Parents whose teenaged children are taking prescribed medication must be warned not to share them
  • Medications not in use must be locked up whenever they are not actually being retrieved for consumption

Most importantly, this is a lesson on how fragile life is and how vital it is to protect our impaired friends to prevent unnecessary losses like this. Hopefully, some people will learn these lessons from this incident and future lives will be saved as a result.

To view this surveillance footage on the Chicago Tribune website, click here.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.