By Marcy Stamper
A preliminary investigation indicates that a 17-year-old man on a brush-clearing crew died from an alcohol overdose or poisoning, according to Okanogan County Coroner Dave Rodriguez.
Santos Armando Romero Mendez Jr. (known as Armando) was working on a crew under contract with the U.S. Forest Service. A fellow crew member staying in the same camper called 911 just after 6 a.m. on Oct. 7 to report that Mendez had been found dead in his bed.
Mendez, a native of El Salvador, was working with a crew of about 30 people, reportedly all from El Salvador, clearing and stacking brush left over from timber sales, according to Rodriguez. Crew members were staying in campers and trailers at the Lost River Resort, about 7 miles west of Mazama. The crew is based in Centralia in southwestern Washington.
Mendez had at least two cousins on the crew. His father was working in Alaska and it took some time to locate and notify him, said Rodriguez. Mendez’ mother is in El Salvador.
Rodriguez is still awaiting the official toxicology results from his autopsy, which can take up to six weeks. Preliminary results showed a “really high blood-alcohol content,” he said.
As coroner, Rodriguez looks for medical conditions or injuries that would explain why a healthy 17-year-old would die. He did not find any in this case, he said.
Investigators suspect an alcohol overdose or poisoning based on testimony about activities on the evening before Mendez died, said Rodriguez.
Because Mendez was under 21, there are ongoing investigations being conducted by Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy Laura Wright and by County Prosecutor Karl Sloan, according to Rodriguez.