SINGAPORE, July 4 — A 22-year-old Singaporean youth was under the influence of the illicit hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) when he leaped to his death at a Housing and Development Board block last year, a state coroner has found.

There was no evidence that Ethan Marcus Lee Zhen Yang intended to die by suicide, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda said in his written coroner’s inquiry findings last Wednesday (June 29).

The coroner added: “This tragic case is a timely reminder of the devastating harm that illicit drugs can cause not only to the consumer, but to their families and loved ones.”

In his findings, State Coroner Nakhoda laid out the sequence of events that led to Lee’s death in the wee hours of June 13 last year.

Lee, who was working as a freelance artiste, met his friend — only identified as Aquinas — that day because the other man was feeling down from relationship issues.

The two men talked in Lee’s bedroom at his Hougang flat. Lee then apparently asked Aquinas if he wanted to try LSD again and also offered his prescription Xanax, which treats anxiety disorders.

During the coroner’s inquiry, Aquinas claimed that Lee had introduced him to LSD in 2020 and bought the drug from his own contact for them to consume together.

After Aquinas collected the LSD tabs from Lee’s contact known as Nick, the pair took two tabs before going to Aquinas’ flat in Pasir Ris. The police later found photographs in Lee’s phone of them with the tabs on their tongues.

A file photo of LSD stamps. ― Central Narcotics Bureau pic via TODAY
A file photo of LSD stamps. ― Central Narcotics Bureau pic via TODAY

Kept vomiting

They then went to Aquinas’ bedroom and lay on his bed.

His sister and her friends testified that they thought the pair was intoxicated from alcohol and had no idea they were under the influence of LSD.

Aquinas’ sister checked in on them and noticed that they seemed fine.

A while later, while drinking water in the living room, Lee vomited it and some food out. He then returned to the bedroom and vomited on Aquinas’ bed.

His sister’s friend, who was a registered nurse, also asked to check their physical states. Aquinas was fine but Lee continued to vomit as he walked around the house.

When they asked for Lee’s National Registration Identity Card to check his address, he kept asking if he was in trouble. He did not complain of pain and did not ask for medical attention.

At around 12.30am, Lee sent text messages to some friends in an Instagram group chat to ask: “I’m not going to die right?” And “I can’t feel myelf [sic]”.

Aquinas’ sister’s friends then left at around 2.30am.

While in the living room once more, Lee staggered around and kept falling to the ground. He also poured a cup of water over himself, slammed it to the ground and repeatedly asked to go home.

Aquinas’ sister said she was reluctant to let Lee leave in his supposedly intoxicated state, but her brother told her he had booked a private-hire car for Lee.

When she opened the flat’s main gate, he dashed out.

Aquinas chased him and saw him climb onto and sit on the sixth-floor corridor ledge at the side of the lift lobby.

According to Aquinas, he tried to pull Lee down by the arm, but Lee allegedly said his life had no meaning and asked Aquinas to jump with him as well.

Aquinas then testified that Lee suddenly jumped off the ledge.

Died in hospital

When Aquinas’ sister heard a loud thudding sound, she ran to the staircase landing between the fifth and sixth floors. She saw Lee lying on the ground motionless.

Eventually, Aquinas confessed to her that they had taken LSD.

An ambulance arrived and took Lee to Changi General Hospital. He still had a pulse and was breathing shallowly at that point.

However, his condition deteriorated despite cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He was pronounced dead at 6am.

An autopsy found that he had died from multiple injuries consistent with a fall from height. These included multiple skull and facial fractures.

The medical officer who conducted the autopsy stated that LSD would have caused an altered mental state but did not directly cause death.

Effects of LSD include euphoria, intense joy, fear, anxiety, agitation, abnormal awareness of time, changes in perception of sounds and sights and colours.

The extent of these effects may differ between individuals even with the same concentration of LSD detected in their samples, the medical officer stated.

Aquinas was arrested after Lee’s death. Because he was a full-time national serviceman at the time and subject to military law, he was ordered to serve detention in the Singapore Armed Forces’ detention barracks for consumption of LSD.

He also gave Nick’s details to the Central Narcotics Bureau, which made the decision to take no further action against Nick.

Psychiatric issues

State Coroner Nakhoda noted that in 2018, Lee had gone to Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness. This was during his National Service days.

Lee reported being unable to cope at his NS unit and having thoughts of self-harm. While he said he had also contemplated taking his own life, he did not relate any previous history of suicide attempts.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, the psychiatrist, concluded that Lee had a major depressive disorder with anxious distress in 2018 and 2019, characterised by low mood and passive suicidal thoughts. In 2020, he suffered from an adjustment disorder triggered by his impending in-camp training.

Lee’s mother told the coroner’s court that he just had an art piece commissioned by a client before his death. According to her, his business was improving, he was happy and was making short-term and long-term plans.

State Coroner Nakhoda ruled that based on all the evidence, as well as the known ill effects of LSD, Lee had not intended to commit suicide.

The coroner stressed that a finding of suicide “requires a finding that the death occurred by a deliberate act by the deceased and in doing so, the deceased intended that the consequence would be his or her own death”.

State Coroner Nakhoda added: “I found at the time that Ethan leaped off the ledge, he was very likely to have been suffering from an altered mental state and one or more of the other effects as a result of his consumption of LSD.”

He also gave his condolences to Lee’s family for their “untimely and tragic loss”.

LSD is a Class A controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Those convicted of possessing or consuming it can be fined up to S$20,000 (RM63,210) or jailed up to 10 years, or punished with both. — TODAY