Community spreads awareness after UNCW student dies of methanol poisoning abroad

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A study abroad trip gone terribly wrong. Family and friends of one former UNCW student are now trying to educate others around the world.

“We get online and begin to look and are just floored at this epidemic that’s going on,” said Crystal Turney, whose son died while studying abroad.

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When Eric and Crystal Turney got the call, they had no idea what to think. Their son Ryan, was studying abroad in east Asia through UNCW.

On a trip to Vietnam, Ryan went out for drinks with his friends. No one ever thought one drink could end his life.

“His death certificate says cardiac arrest. He did not have an autopsy, but looking at the medical reports, he was treated for methanol poisoning,” said Crystal Turney.



Turney says Ryan’s drink likely had methanol in it the night before. She says Ryan’s friends told them that he woke up the next day not feeling well. But the methanol was already in his system.

“You can’t detect when it’s in your drink. It only takes two ounces of methanol to kill you. Methanol is used to replace ethanol, which is a more expensive substance,” said Lucy Coppola, who was a close friend of Ryan’s.

Coppola explains that some foreign countries use methanol to replace real alcohol.

Turney explains that the symptoms are easy to miss. She says they are very similar to those of a hangover.

The Turney’s message, however, is not to hold back adventure seekers.

“We want to share that, don’t stop traveling. Keep traveling. Appreciate different cultures and all of those things that Ryan was doing. But just be safe about it,” said Turney.

Since his death in September, Ryan’s family and friends are dedicated to raising awareness of this deadly practice. They want to educate young people so that they can keep living adventurously, just like Ryan did.

The Turneys say they have already spoken to some local universities and groups. They also say they are working on starting a foundation in Ryan’s name to educate people on this danger while abroad.