Medical Examiner: Exploding vape pen killed St. Petersburg man

Report: Exploding vape pen killed St. Pete man
Posted at 11:18 AM, May 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-16 08:17:20-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Pinellas County's Medical Examiner confirms a vape pen explosion is to blame for the death of a 38-year-old St. Petersburg man. 

Bill Pellan, Director of Investigations at the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the report to ABC Action News on Tuesday. 

Tallmadge Wakeman D'Elia, who went by "Wake," died in a fire in an upstairs bedroom of a home located at 316 19th Avenue NE. 

The autopsy report says the electronic cigarette created a "projectile wound" on D'Elia's head penetrating his skull and brain. It’s the first e-cigarette death in the United States, according to FEMA, which keeps statistics on e-cigarettes. 

The medical examiner says the vape was a Smok-E Mountain Mech Works, a type of unregulated mechanical mod e-cigarette, which in an online description says "does not come with safety features."

ABC Action News found an online warning explaining that the vape is not meant for beginners.

“I just don’t think they’re safe enough," explained Gary Wilder, the owner of Lizard Juice.

Wilder says he, and many other local store owners, won’t sell the “unregulated” e-cigarettes. Instead they turn to vapes with a computer chip inside,  which keeps the device from overheating.

“Any other e-cig that has a computer chip in it prevents that from happening,” Wilder added.

According to a recent FEMA report, vape pen explosions are not common, but when they do happen, the shape of the devices make them behave like “flaming rockets.”

Wilder suggests using rubber casings over any extra batteries and re-wrapping any batteries that seem to be worn down.

"If that seal is broken on the top, the negative is exposed and if you put that in your pocket, it can do the same thing in your pocket," Wilder added.

The autopsy report does not say why the device exploded.

A representative from Smok-E Mountain tells us their devices do not explode, instead telling us it is likely an atomizer (the part a person inserts into their mouth) or a battery issue. The company says they've had problems with other companies cloning their batteries, which makes them less safe. The company is hoping to see photos of the device that was used by D'Elia. 

RELATED | Fire investigator: Vape pen explosion may have killed St. Pete man

When firefighters discovered D'Elia, 45% of his body was covered in burns. The Medical Examiner says D'Elia's cause of death is "accidental."