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Dry ice fumes killed cafe owner trapped in cooler, autopsy concludes

A Tennessee café owner died of inhaling fumes from dry ice within minutes after he was accidentally locked inside his restaurant’s cooler on Sunday, an autopsy has determined.

Germantown East Café in East Nashville had closed on Friday because of a planned power outage in the building, NBC station WSMV-TV reported. Because of the outage, dry ice was being used in the cooler to keep food from spoiling.

Co-owner Jay Luther, 47, went to the popular eatery on Sunday night to check on the cooler. He then became locked inside, police said.

On Sunday night, police responded to a robbery alarm at 8:29 p.m., but officers left after they concluded power surges caused a false alarm.

Watch video, read about the case on wsmv.com

On Monday, Luther's body was found in the freezer by the other co-owner, Chris Lowry. 


Police later found out that the mechanism to unlock the cooler door from the inside was broken. Part of the device was sitting on a shelf outside the cooler.

According to the medical examiner in Nashville, Luther would have been overcome by carbon dioxide gas from the dry ice found in the enclosed cooler.

“I think it’s just a tragic accident, an unfortunate coming together of circumstances for this poor gentleman that got trapped inside the freezer, at a time there was carbon dioxide there, and he was overwhelmed by the vapors,” Adele Lewis, deputy chief medical examiner for Nashville, told the Tennessean on Tuesday.

Police said they would review their response to the Sunday night call.

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