Many people are repulsed by the hot dog eating contests which have become a staple at Fourth of July celebrations in recent years, but seldom do you hear anyone say that the practice is dangerous. As it turns out it can be dangerous, even deadly.
Walter Eagle Tail, 47 of Custer, South Dakota died last Thursday at a hospital after he choked on a hot dog at a competition sponsored by the Custer Chamber of Commerce as part of the Fourth of July celebration.
Custer County Sheriff, Rick Wheeler told the Rapid City Journal that when paramedics and Sheriff’s deputies arrived, someone had already begun to perform CPR in an attempt to revive Eagle Tail. Paramedics were unable to remove the obstruction from his throat however and “basically, he probably just suffocated,” Wheeler said.
“It all happened within minutes,” he added. “I think everybody was pretty well shocked about it.”
“We are at a loss for words,” said a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, Dave Ressler. “We are mourning for Walter and his family right now.”
After Eagle Tail’s death, the Chamber of Commerce felt that it was best if they cancelled a pie eating competition that was to have taken place the next day although Wheeler said that he was not certain that the death would prompt any changes in the plans for next year’s contests.
“Walter was just being Walter, having fun when he entered this contest,” said Ardis McRae, a friend, as she remembered him on Monday. “He was just having a good time.”
McRae said that she and Eagle Tail had occasionally sold jewelry together at the Crazy Horse Memorial for the last three years and remembered him as a man who loved a good joke and being helpful to others.
She said that he had a real knack for engaging the customers who bought his bear claw necklaces at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
“You could just see him smile and laugh. He was just an outgoing person,” she said. “People, they would just smile at the things he was up to. He was just a character.”
While it is rare for anyone to die in these competitive eating competitions, Eagle Tail’s was not the first such death. A man in Florida choked to death in 2012 after consuming dozens of cock roaches in a contest, and in 2007 several employees at a California radio station were fired after a woman died of water intoxication following a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest in which contestants vied for a Wii gaming console by seeing how much water they could drink before succumbing to the call of nature.
Speaking for the competitive eating industry, George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating, the New York based organization that sanctions the annual Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathans Hots in New York City said that safety is paramount.
“We organize the entire thing around safety. [Just as] if it’s football or hockey or auto racing, we approach it as a top priority,” he said.
h/t: ABC News