Man dies after choking during hot-dog eating contest

A tradition that combines eating and sport and which has become nearly as synonymous with July 4 as fireworks took a serious and tragic turn last week, when a South Dakota man died during a hot-dog eating contest.

According to the Rapid City Journal, 47-year-old Walter Eagle Tail of Custer, S.D., died Thursday after a piece of hot dog "got lodged in his throat" and he suffocated. According to the report, Eagle Tail was "trying to win the contest" when he began to choke.

When Eagle Tail began to choke, paramedics were called and CPR was begun. Eagle Tail was transported by ambulance to an area hospital, where he died.

"There was someone doing CPR when we arrived," Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler told the Journal on Monday. "Basically, he probably just suffocated. It got lodged in his throat and they couldn’t get it out.

"It all happened within minutes. I think everybody was pretty well shocked about it."

The six-man contest was part of days-long festivities put on by the Custer Chamber of Commerce to celebrate Independence Day. A pie-eating contest scheduled for July 4 was canceled after Eagle Tail’s death.

Wheeler told the paper as of now it is not clear if any changes will be made to next year’s festivities.


Competitive eating has grown tremendously in recent years, with the annual July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest televised live and reigning eight-time champion Joey Chestnut a bona fide celebrity.

While there is no official database of deaths attributed to competitive-eating accidents, there have been numerous such reports, including a California woman who died from water intoxication in 2007, a Romanian man choking to death during a sausage-eating contest last October, and a Taiwanese graduate student who died after "relentless" vomiting after he passed out during a rice-and-cheese buns contest that would have paid him $60 had he survived to collect his winnings.