Drinking local spirit killed teacher in Bali, says her family

A 21-year-old teacher died while on holiday in Bali two days after drinking a local spirit which her family believe may have killed her.

Roisin Burke, from Oaklawn West in Leixlip, Co Kildare, died on May 31 last year after she became ill while holidaying on islands off Bali’s coast.

Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that Roisin had been working in Jakarta, Indonesia, as an English teacher, and was holidaying on the Gili islands with a group of friends when she died.

Her brother Brian Burke said that the group had been drinking Arak — a locally brewed spirit — at a café on the island of Lombok two days before his sister’s death.

He said that the family are concerned that she may have died as a result of methanol poisoning.

“A number of tourists to the Bali/Gili islands area have been victims of methanol poisoning due to the unregulated nature of the local brewing industry where it is common practice to add methanol to, in particular, Arak,” he said.

He cited a known case of an Australian woman who became ill from methanol poisoning after drinking Arak at the same café as Roisin, and an outbreak in 2009 where Arak cut with methanol claimed the lives of 25 people.

The court heard that Roisin became very ill in the days after drinking the spirit and on the second day passed out. She was taken to a local clinic where medics attempted to resuscitate her for an hour but failed.

Another woman in the group also became ill but subsequently recovered.

Her mother Nora Burke said that her last contact with Roisin was just hours before she died when her daughter texted to say that she was running a high fever.

Gardaí in Leixlip informed her of the death later that day.

The Indonesian authorities did not conduct a postmortem.

However, a toxicology screen found that Roisin had no illegal substances in her system. An autopsy was performed at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, eight days after her death.

The body had been embalmed and pathologist Dr Muna Sabah told the court this significantly impacted the autopsy.

A toxicology screen found methanol present. Dr Sabah said that Irish undertakers often use methanol in the embalming process.

However, the family told the court that the Indonesian embalmer had confirmed that he only used formaldehyde.

Dr Sabah said that initially the death was attributed to sudden adult death syndrome but on hearing the evidence in court she could not exclude methanol poisoning as a cause of death.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell adjourned the inquest to take evidence from further witnesses and to contact the Indonesian undertaker.

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