Deaths highlight dangers of hot tub poaching |

Deaths highlight dangers of hot tub poaching

SUMMIT COUNTY – To some, it’s a James Bond-style mission carried out with stealth and aplomb. For others, it’s a matter of simply relaxing and stretching sore ski legs – a benefit at a risk.

And sometimes, it’s just where the party ends up. But what isn’t typically on the minds of hot tub poachers is the risk of death.

In the past two months, two men have died in Breckenridge-area hot tubs. The deaths highlight the dangers that spas can present – especially in the wee hours of the morning when no one else is around.

Summit County has thousands of hot tubs and spas. Some are in private homes, but most can be found in lodges, condominium clubhouses and hotel recreation areas.

Use of the whirlpools is typically restricted to guests of the facility. They’re closed off by fences or keylocks, with restricted hours – but that doesn’t always keep people out. Ask around: If you haven’t done it yourself, you probably know someone who’s poached a hot tub or three in the time they’ve lived here.

“I’ve poached a few, and it was always after hours and I wasn’t a guest,” said Derek Berthold, a waiter in Keystone. “Last summer, I used to do it a lot with a girlfriend. So many people do it. It’s fun and mischievous – maybe more fun because you’re not supposed to. But I never considered actually dying.”

According to staff at the Summit Medical Center though everyone should think about the risks before taking a hot soak. Hot tubs can be very therapeutic. When used responsibly and considering one’s health, they’re perfectly safe. But Amy Woessner, a staff nurse in Summit Medical Center’s emergency room, said young and old people alike frequently end up seeking help from doctors after a hot tub-induced incident.

“It happens,” Woessner said. “We see it all the time.”

Woessner outlined a number of things that can happen to the human body in a spa.

First, she said, hot water causes vasodilation, or expansion of blood vessels. Sitting in a hot tub, your legs will experience this the most, leading to a pooling of blood in the extremities. Stand up too fast, and the lack of blood in the brain will cause you to pass out.

“Alcohol and hot tubs are kind of a double-whammy,” Woessner said, noting that alcohol by itself causes blood vessel dilation, compounding the problem.

Alcohol also causes dehydration. Combine that with a day of strenuous exercise – say mountain biking or skiing – and a person is likely to be seriously dehydrated. Lack of water in the system can lead to numerous problems, Woessner said.

Other problems can result for people with specific medical conditions. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, could cause anyone in a hot tub to feel weak and dizzy. People with heart conditions sometimes take medications that slow the heartbeat or reduce blood pressure – hot tubs can lower them even further.

On Aug. 2, John Chenoweth, a 28-year-old Breckenridge resident, was found dead in a hot tub. An autopsy later showed that alcohol was a factor in his death. Richard Van Horn, 44, was found dead Saturday in a hot tub. The coroner suspects alcohol might have been a factor in his death, too.

Although both men technically had permission to be in the hot tubs – Chenoweth was an employee at the lodge where he died, and Van Horn was a resident – the deaths point out another danger of late-night hot-tubbing alone. There’s no one likely to find you should something happen.

“It’s going to happen, we know that,” Mike Lee, communications manager at Keystone Resort, said of hot tub poaching. “But it’s never been a problem. I don’t even think we’d know when it was happening. That’s the transient nature of our guests. How are we supposed to know that’s not Mr. Jones from 304?”

Lee said the resort and owners’ associations take precautions, though. All hot tub areas are enclosed and require keys to get in. The resorts all have maintenance employees who close down hot tubs at night and security details that patrol regularly after that.

But at some point, Lee said, it’s the hot tub user (or poacher) who takes some responsibility.

“We have warnings visible because we don’t have lifeguards,” Lee said. “Every hot tub has signs that say, “Don’t stay in too long’ and “Don’t use alcohol.’ That’s why those signs are there.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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