Canadian student's death in LA hotel water tank ruled accidental drowning

Canadian student found drowned on top of LA building after disappearing four months earlier

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:31am

A Canadian tourist whose body was discovered in a water tank atop a downtown Los Angeles hotel four months ago died in an accidental drowning, coroner's officials investigating the gruesome case have ruled.

A maintenance worker discovered the body of Elisa Lam, 21, on February 19 after residents of the Cecil Hotel complained about low water pressure.

At the time the University of British Columbia student, whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong, had been missing for several weeks from the hotel after travelling there from Vancouver.

Her death sparked worldwide speculation after video emerged of her acting strangely in a hotel lift, appearing to hide from someone.

Los Angeles county coroner's officials ruled the cause of death as "accidental … due to drowning. Other significant conditions being bipolar disorder".

The ruling did not elaborate on Lam's mental state. Coroner's officials noted that the medical examination found no visible signs of trauma on the body and toxicology tests found nothing that contributed to her death.

Lam went missing in late January, when she stopped making daily contact with her parents.

She had been missing for three weeks before her body was found.

During that time, detectives with the robbery-homicide division appealed to the public for help in the case and released the video of Lam inside a Cecil Hotel lift.

In surveillance footage, Lam could be seen pushing buttons for multiple floors and at one point stepping out of the lift and waving her arms.

Asked how Lam got into one of the water tanks, grey cylindrical structures at least three metres tall with covered tops, investigator Fred Corral said: "It appears she climbed in."

The only ways to get to the roof were via a locked door that only employees had access to and a fire escape.

The door was equipped with an alarm system that notified hotel personnel if someone was on the roof, Los Angeles police sergeant Rudy Lopez said.

Management at the Cecil Hotel, in the skid row area of Los Angeles, said the four water storage tanks were not locked.

Some guests complained about the taste of the water before Lam's body was found, but health officials later determined that the case posed no health risk.

Lam's case inspired amateur sleuths to post numerous theories on websites about what might have happened to her.

Much of the speculation focused on the surveillance video of Lam in the hotel lift. The video has gone viral on the Chinese video site Youku.com with more than three million views and 40,000 comments.

Many commenters said they were disturbed by the tape, with one calling it "spooky".

"I knew about Elisa Lam but this is the first time I saw the video," one wrote. "I'm so scared, I'm shaking. I'm numb."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse