On Monday, August 11, 2008 Sarah Widmer complained of a head and stomach ache. She arrived home after work and laid on the couch while Ryan made dinner. Ryan rubbed Sarah's head while she watched TV and before she retreated upstairs to take a bath she kissed him goodnight. Ryan stayed downstairs to watch football for around 30-45 minutes before heading upstairs. After undressing and turning on the TV in the master bedroom Ryan walked in the bathroom and found Sarah unresponsive in the tub. He sat her up, drained the water and dialed 911. He tried to perform CPR as best he could, with little help from the 911 operator. Police and EMTs arrived to help and after 45 minutes of rigorous CPR and 5 intubation attempts Sarah was transported to Bethesda Arrow Springs Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Ryan Widmer was charged with murder 2 days after he found his wife in their bathtub. The coroner declared the manner of death as homicide before toxicology reports came back, before speaking to doctors and knowing Sarah's medical history. She frequently complained of headaches and was known to fall asleep, including in the tub, at random times. Falling asleep at family parties, football games, tailgating and in her car was a common occurrence for Sarah.
What could have happened to Sarah?
After looking into Sarah's medical history it became known that she had a heart murmur as a baby and the recommended follow ups were never completed. She was also born with a cleft palate that was repaired when she was an child. According to newly discovered documents, as described in Janice Hisle's book, Submerged: Ryan Widmer, his drowned bride and the justice system, Sarah appears to have had low-set ears, a small lower jaw and actually walked on her tippy toes the night she passed away. All of these symptoms point to Sarah having Long QT Syndrome or some other disorder (see attached chart for concerns about Sarah's health). Narcolepsy and Cataplexy are other suspected conditions Sarah could have suffered from based on the symptoms she was experiencing at the time of her death.
Dr. Russell Uptegrove, The coroner who completed Sarah's autopsy did not test Sarah's heart or brain for such conditions. In his eyes, those tests cost too much money. He ruled the manner of death as a drowning and the cause as a homicide within hours of Sarah passing away. Since Dr. Uptegrove did not preserve the brain and the heart correctly the Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Werner Spitz, who completed Sarah's second autopsy could not conduct the tests for those conditions. He ruled Sarah's death as a drowning and the manner was unknown. The DNA that the prosecutors hold is the only thing that could possibly give Ryan answers as to what happened to his wife, Sarah.
Every year around 300,000 people under the age of 35 die and their autopsies do not show any sign of what they died from.