Nazrin Hassan, the CEO of a Malaysian venture capital fund, died after one of his cellphones reportedly caught fire while it was charging in his bedroom. Conflicting reports have attributed his cause of death to blunt force trauma and smoke inhalation, but authorities say that they need more time to investigate exactly what happened.
Hassan was the Group CEO of the Cradle Fund, a VC that claims to have helped fund over 700 Malaysian tech startups. In a press release dated June 15, the Cradle Fund confirmed Hassan’s death saying “the post mortem report concluded the cause of death as being complication of blast injuries attributable to an exploding hand phone that was being charged next to him.”
That account echoes a social media message from Hassan’s brother-in-law that was circulated in local reports about the incident. According to The Malaysian Insight, the brother-in-law claims that one of Hassan’s phones overheated and exploded causing an object to hit him in the back of the head. “He had two phones, one Blackberry and a Huawei. We don’t know which one exploded. Who would have thought such an innocuous routine procedure is the reason three young kids will grow up without their father by their side,” the brother-in-law reportedly wrote. Previously, however, a police spokeperson told Malaysia’s Star newspaper that the cause of death was “smoke inhalation and the body being burnt.”
But on Wednesday, officials from the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department urged everyone not to jump to conclusions. The department’s director, Azmi Osman, told the Malay Mail that it will be another week or two before the electronics testing laboratory can supply the results of its investigation. “The statement that the cause of fire was from a exploding handphone that was charged next to him was made by the family, not us,” he said. He said that police are not involved at this time and they will only be brought in if something arises that causes suspicions of foul play.
Hassan was educated in the UK before becoming a leading figure in Malaysia’s tech and finance world. He’s survived by his wife and four children.
It would be highly unusual for a phone to explode in a manner that could create a lethal projectile. The lithium-ion batteries that are commonly used in smartphones can swell up and catch fire causing a scary burst of sparks, flames, and smoke. Among major smartphone manufacturers, the only device we’ve seen that was recalled because of battery issues was the Samsung Note 7 in 2016. The issue tends to arise in poorly manufactured devices that don’t include proper battery ventilation.
We’ve never encountered an incident in which a phone explosion resulted in someone’s death. In May, police concluded that a man in Florida was killed by two pieces of shrapnel when the battery in his vape pen exploded. At the time, it was believed to be the first death related to a malfunctioning vape.