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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 4:32 p.m., Friday, April 7, 2006

Bacterial infection claims man's life

Advertiser Staff

The Honolulu Medical Examiner's office has determined that Oliver Johnson died of multi-system organ failure due to septic shock, following a plunge into the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor last week.

Johnson, a 34-year-old Honolulu mortgage broker, died last night after he was taken off life support.

Dr. Kanthi De Alwis, chief medical examiner, said today that a vulnificus bacterial infection was present in Johnson's foot and he suffered from chronic alcoholic liver disease, which contributed to the flesh-eating infection's ability to take hold.

The medical examiner will continue to investigate whether injuries to his foot and whether blunt force trauma to his face resulted from assault or from an accident.

Meanwhile, Johnson's family has retained an attorney to investigate the circumstances that led to his death.

The family has not yet decided if they'll take legal action as a result of his death, Johnson's mother said today from her attorney's office.

But they are cooperating with police in an investigation of the events that led to his hospitalization Sunday with excruciating leg pain, she said.

Johnson had been battling a massive bacterial infection since he fell or was pushed into the sewage-tainted harbor a week ago. He died about 9:15 last night at The Queen's Medical Center, the city Department of the Medical Examiner said this morning.

Stephany Sofos, a close friend, said Johnson never regained consciousness after he was placed into a medically induced coma on Sunday to help his body battle the infection.

Johnson's mother arrived from Florida this week to be with her son, and one of his brothers flew in yesterday and went straight to the hospital, Sofos said.

The family made the decision to take Johnson off life support yesterday.

"This is such a tragedy on so many different levels," Sofos said. "He just kept getting worse and worse."

Johnson initially said he had fallen into the harbor Friday night but later indicated he was involved in a fight aboard a boat at the harbor and was pushed or thrown into the harbor, which had been contaminated by raw sewage when the city diverted an estimated 48 million gallons of untreated effluent into the Ala Wai Canal after a sewer main burst in Waikiki. City workers dumped the raw sewage into the canal to keep it from backing up into Waikiki apartments and hotel rooms, Mayor Mufi Hannemann has said.

Health experts are split in their opinions as to whether or to what extent Johnson's fall into the polluted water may have led to the bacterial infection that caused or contributed to his death.