This story has been around for a couple of days, but some new information has just come out that could spell legal trouble for a radio station and their former employees.

To catch you up to speed, KDND 107.9 FM in Sacramento, like most top 40 stations in America, has a “morning zoo” program. They’re all pretty much the same, two guys and/or gals playing gags and bits between songs. This show, in particular, wanted to run a contest where the winner would receive a Nintendo Wii. So, they came up with the brilliant idea of “Hold your Wee for Wii”. What it amounts to is contestants drinking as much water as they can without going to the bathroom.

The winner, Jennifer Strange, a mother from the Sacramento area, topped out at 2 gallons of water and won her family the coveted Wii. After winning she did of course let nature take its course. But unfortunately the story didn’t stop there. She was found later that day dead in her apartment. Coroners described it as “death by water intoxication”. Literally translated, she got drunk and died on water.

Immediately, an investigation was called and the radio show members and crew were fired. The inevitable talk of lawsuits and liability were lobbed, but most were simply saying this was a horrible tragic accident. Police were saying that no criminal charges were pending as Strange “entered the contest of her own free will.”

This morning, however, some new information has come out:

Wii Contest DJ’s could face criminal charges

Audio postings on the internet of the show’s contest show that the danger of water intoxication was discussed, one caller even warning that this stunt could lead to a death. The DJ’s laughed off any such fears, even referencing a college student who had died several years ago by the same cause as a result of a college fraternity hazing prank. They basically stated that the contestants had signed releases, making the station not liable for any results.

The police have said that in light of this new information, charges of manslaughter may be filed.

Now, discuss.

First off, I have to admit to being a fan of radio “shock jocks.” I’ve listened to the syndicated “Don and Mike Show” for 15 years. I grew up in Rochester, NY, and spent many driving hours checking out “Brother Wease” in the mornings. Funny, awkward contests are part of that genre.

Secondly, I understand the point about contestants signing waivers. It’s not as much about protecting the contestant as it is the station; however, a person signing such a release is taking responsibility for their actions into their own hands.

However, those tapes show an unmitigated amount of negligence on the part of the DJ’s. Not only were they told by listeners that death via this stunt was possible. They knew it all along and even joked about someone who had already died from doing the exact same thing.
That’s criminal negligence, plain and simple. More than likely, Ms. Strange had no idea about the dangers of this competition when she signed the waiver. I would also be willing to bet that the radio show didn’t sit Jennifer down with lawyers and explain this agreement word for word. More than likely, they probably simply said that this was a waiver and she needed to sign it in order to be eligible to win.

Does someone signing a piece of paper magically remove any responsibility on your part? Are you legally or ethically freed from remorse or fault because you coerced someone to put their name to a waiver?

Look, if the waiver said in effect that this particular activity was dangerous and possibly life threatening, then the radio station’s in the clear in my mind I guess, maybe not morally or ethically, but I would venture to say so legally. If not, if it was just some standard clause like ‘the station is removed from any and all liability’, that’s irresponsible and should be addressed by the authorities.

Please chime in with your opinions!

— Rob, Editor-in-Chief (the “Geeksinger”)