A 24-year-old man in Fort Worth, Texas has died after a vape pen he was using exploded in his face and severed an artery to his brain, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner. The incident adds to a growing number of devastating vape explosions.
William Brown died on January 29th according to the medical examiner’s records. The cause of death is listed as “penetrating trauma from exploding vaporizer pen.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram spoke to the man’s grandmother, Alice Brown, who explained that the explosion occurred in the parking lot of a local vaporizer store just moments after he had purchased the vape pen.
Alice Brown told the paper that her grandson had asthma and was not a smoker, but he’d heard a certain type of vape pen could help with his condition. He reportedly was trying the vape for the first time in a car when it exploded and severed his left carotid artery, one of four major vessels that supply blood to the brain.
“He popped it and it exploded, and that’s when it shot across his mouth,” Alice Brown told WFAA. “When they x-rayed him, they found the stem, the metal embedded to where the blood flows up to the brain.” He was found collapsed outside the car and died at a nearby hospital two days later.
Gizmodo contacted the Tarrant County Medical Examiner by email to ask if they have a record of what brand or model of vape pen Brown was using at the time of his death, but we did not receive an immediate reply. We’ll update this post when we have more information.
Brown is not the first person to have his death attributed to a vape explosion. Last May, a man in St. Petersburg, Florida died after his vape exploded and sent two pieces of shrapnel into his brain. In that case, police claimed the man was using “mod” type of vape. While that term is associated with several different kinds of devices, it often refers to a “mechanical mod,” a vaporizer which lacks a circuit board to regulate the current drawn from the battery.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many incidents like this have occurred as authorities have only been tracking vape explosions for a short time. In 2017, the U.S. Fire Administration released a report that found at least 195 incidents attributed to vape explosions occurred between 2009 and 2016. In most of those cases, the explosion caused nearby objects to catch fire and 133 of the incidents resulted in injuries.
Last year, Dennis Thombs, dean of the School of Public Health at UNT Health Science Center, published a study that concluded the number of vape explosions in the U.S. were most likely underestimated. Thombs estimated that there were 2,035 e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries in the United States between 2015 and 2017. “Improved surveillance of e-cigarette injuries and regulation of e-cigarette devices is urgently needed,” Thombs wrote.
The lithium-ion batteries found in vape pens can be highly volatile, and people should use caution when purchasing powerful vaping devices, especially mechanical mods.