Best way to categorize Winston-Salem business owner’s death is accidental, medical examiner says

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A doctor believes the best way to categorize a Winston-Salem business owner's death is accidental.

According to an autopsy report from the Forsyth County Medical Examiner, Tonya Glenn Bess, 51, of Tobaccoville, died from hypothermia.

Another major contributing factor was significant alcohol intoxication, according to the autopsy.

Bess was found dead outside her restaurant, Prime Tyme Soul Café at 2730 University Parkway, at about 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2018. At the time, her death was being investigated as suspicious.

According to the autopsy, Bess was found outside face down on the pavement. A sweatshirt, a pair of glasses and jewelry were also found near her body.

Bess had scrapes on her body that the report said were consistent with stumbling or falling.

The autopsy revealed that at the time she died, Bess had a blood alcohol concentration of .35 -- more than three times the legal limit. The report also noted that Bess had a history with alcohol use and was trying to cut back, which may have led to a decrease in her alcohol tolerance.

The night Bess died, the temperature dropped to 31 degrees. Bess was only wearing a thin sweatshirt, thin long sleeve shirt and thin pants the night of her death, which would have been inadequate for long exposure to the outside temperatures that night, the report said.

The medical examiner wrote it looked like she was trying to take off her shirt and pants based on the way she was found.

The autopsy noted that, "A well-documented and common phenomenon which occurs during the course of hypothermia is called paradoxical undressing. Despite the cold, due to confusion, a person begins to remove layers of clothing, worsening their heat loss. Another well documented phenomenon in hypothermia is crawling and ‘burrowing’ behavior. Due to the inability to walk or move in a coordinated way, people with hypothermia will often struggle and crawl on their hands, arms and knees (often resulting in injuries to these areas) and attempt to shelter under objects as an attempt to find warmth."

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