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Mom's last hours recalled

Other contestants in radio contest say woman drank over half a gallon of water.

By Christina Jewett - Bee Staff Writer

Last Updated 1:32 pm PST Monday, January 15, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1

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In a family photo, Jennifer Lea Strange is with, from left, son Keegan Sims, 10; daughter Jorie, 11 months; husband William Strange; and son Ryland, 3. "We miss her dearly," William Strange says. William Strange

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Contestants in a radio stunt called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" revealed new details Sunday about an on-air water drinking contest that left a 28-year-old mother of three dead.

Jennifer Lea Strange died after drinking well over a half gallon of water Friday during the "Morning Rave" program on The End (KDND, 107.9 FM). About 18 contestants vied for a Nintendo Wii gaming console by drinking as much water as they could without going to the bathroom; Strange took second place.

James Ybarra, a Woodland man who gave up after drinking eight 8-fluid-ounce bottles of water, or half a gallon, said that Strange kept going.

Most contestants were hoping to get the console for their children, he said. Strange showed contestants photos of her two sons and daughter.

"It is sad that a mother had to lose her life to get something for her kids," he said. "None of us knew this could be a risk to our health."

The Sacramento County Coroner's Office said Saturday that Strange died of apparent water intoxication. A preliminary investigation didn't reveal any "life threatening medical conditions to explain her sudden death."

John Geary, general manager of Entercom Sacramento, which owns KDND, did not return messages left Sunday on his cellular and home phones. In an e-mail message to The Bee, he said:

"We were stunned when we heard this news. We are awaiting information that will help explain how this tragic event occurred. Our sympathies are with the family and friends of Jennifer Strange, as they deal with circumstances that are so difficult to comprehend."

Strange's husband, William Strange, 27, said late Sunday he was not ready to discuss his wife's death publicly. He released a photo of his young family, and a brief written statement describing his wife's generous and optimistic nature, and her devotion to her family.

"Friday, Jennifer was just her bright, usual self," he wrote. "She was trying to win something for her family that she thought we would enjoy. ... We miss her dearly. She was my girl."

The death touched a nerve throughout Sacramento and was publicized in news outlets from as far away as Toronto, London and Sydney, Australia.

Locally, The Bee's Sunday story drew numerous comments from readers. Some said it is common knowledge that downing water in such quantities is dangerous and that the contestants were responsible for engaging in such risky behavior. Others blasted the station for recklessly endangering people's lives.

Gina Sherrod, who competed with Strange in the contest, said her family listened to the radio show, and told her that a nurse was on air warning that drinking too much water is dangerous. Sherrod said a DJ rebuffed the nurse, saying the contestants signed waivers. Sherrod said the waivers addressed only publicity issues and made no mention of health or safety concerns.

Sherrod said she had no idea what risk she had taken until she saw news of Strange's death.

"I was so scared," she said. "I had the hardest time going to sleep last night because I was afraid I wouldn't get up."

Sherrod sat near Strange during the contest, which began shortly after 6 a.m. Friday in a break room at the radio station's offices on Madison Avenue.

Contestants had qualified by recounting the worst Christmas gifts they'd received.

Strange told Sherrod her worst gift was a set of flower-shaped champagne flutes wrapped like roses that shattered when she opened them.

Participants were each given 8-fluid-ounce bottles of water. They had two minutes to drink a bottle, waited 10 minutes, then drank another bottle.

The women chatted. Strange told Sherrod she and friends had sixth-row tickets to Friday night's Justin Timberlake concert at Arco Arena.

Sherrod said the contest room was quiet at first, but morning disc jockeys Trish, Maney and Lukas and radio personalities Carter and Fester came in and out of the room, pumping up the participants.

"We did it like we were drinking shots," Sherrod said. "Instead of saying 'cheers' we would say 'Wii' and then shoot it."

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About the writer:

  • The Bee's Christina Jewett can be reached at (916) 321-1201 or Bee staff writer Deb Kollars contributed to this report.

James Ybarra

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