Huffing paint not ruled out in young Gloriavale man's death

Inside the Gloriavale paint shop are shelves stacked with tinned paint, brushes, filing cabinets...
Inside the Gloriavale paint shop are shelves stacked with tinned paint, brushes, filing cabinets and drawers and a locked cabinet of aerosol paint. Photo: Supplied by Coroner's Court/Sergeant Litherland
By Niva Chittock

A toxicologist has told a court he cannot rule out the possibility that a Gloriavale man may have been huffing paint and other chemical fumes.

Sincere Standtrue, who was 20, died in Christchurch Hospital following nine days in the intensive care unit in 2018.

An inquest is underway in Greymouth this week to try to determine the cause and circumstances into his death.

From age 15, Standtrue worked in the Christian community's paint shop, and it was here another Gloriavale member found him unresponsive 10 days before he died.

Some of Standtrue's injuries and the paint splattered on his clothing may be consistent with huffing, toxicology expert Dr Leo Schep told the court.

"I got paint on my own overalls [at home] and tried to compare that with what this gentleman had," he said.

"It's possible that it was just poor workplace practice [that caused the paint marks], or, and I can't say for sure, it could have been due to huffing."

Inadvertent exposure to paint fumes also could have produced these effects, Schep said.

Former Gloriavale paint shop workers developing asthma was a "huge red flag" they were likely being exposed to dangerous substances in the paint shop, he said.

Schep believed it was highly likely Standtrue was among those exposed to chemical and paint fumes without proper protection, but again, could not definitively say this was the case.

Another expert witness, forensic pathologist Dr Leslie Anderson also gave evidence to the inquest on Tuesday.

In her formal statement, she detailed concerns with "the inconsistencies between the medical findings and the reported circumstances" of Standtrue's death.

One of the medical conclusions suggested for his death "relies entirely on eyewitness reports" when he was found, Anderson said.

It was unable to be proven with any other evidence, she said.

Some of Standtrue's medical imaging was also unusual and did not match typical results for that proposed cause of death, Anderson said.

A defibrillator was brought to Standtrue shortly after he was found unresponsive in the Gloriavale paint shop, and carried outside.

But it was unable to be used because the battery was flat.

Use of the defibrillator possibly could have made a difference, but it was impossible to say if it could have saved Standtrue's life, Anderson said.

"This is a complicated case with unclear physical findings," she told the court.

"From a forensic pathology perspective, the manner of death is 'unascertained' in this case."

The inquest resumes on Wednesday.