TV Producer Dies After E-Cigarette Explodes, Lodges in His Skull

A former CNBC producer was killed when his e-cigarette exploded and lodged into his skull, penetrating his brain, according to an autopsy, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Tallmadge Wakeman D'Elia, who went by Wake, died on May 5 in St. Petersburg, Florida after his vape pen ignited a fire in the upstairs bedroom of his family's home. The autopsy results from the medical examiner of Pinellas County reveal that his e-cigarette made a "projectile wound" in his skull as well as started the fire. The medical examiner says D'Elia's cause of death was listed as "projectile wound of head."

The pen exploded into pieces, at least two of which were sent into his head, the medical examiner said, ad he suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body.

Bill Pellan, Director of Investigations at the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the report to ABC Action News on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old's vape pen was reportedly a device made in the Philippines that is unregulated. The medical examiner says the pen was a Smok-E Mountain Mech Works, a type of unregulated mechanical mod e-cigarette, which in an online description says "does not come with safety features." It's unclear what caused the pen to explode.

D'Elia's death is the first in the United States caused by a vape pen, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which keeps statistics on e-cigarettes.

A recent report from FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration found that e-cigarettes and vape pen explosions are not common — but when they do explode, the shape of the devices make them behave like "flaming rockets."

There were at least 195 incidents in which an electronic cigarette exploded or caught fire from 2009 through 2016, resulting in 133 injuries, 38 of which were severe. But there were no recorded deaths in the study's period.

The report blamed the incidents on the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries in the products.

"No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body," it said. "It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries that have been seen. While the failure rate of the lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences of a failure, as we have seen, can be severe and life-altering for the consumer."

Gary Wilder, the owner of a vape pen store in St. Petersburg said that he doesn't think "unregulated" pens are "safe enough." Wilder told ABC Action News that he, as well as many other local store owners, won't sell unregulated e-cigarettes. Instead, they sell vape pens with a computer chip inside, which keeps the device from overheating.


"Any other e-cig that has a computer chip in it prevents that from happening," Wilder added.

A representative from Smok-E Mountain told ABC Action News that their devices do not explode. The representative said that it was likely an atomizer (the part a person inserts into their mouth) or a battery issue that caused the explosion. The company says they've had problems with other companies cloning their batteries, which makes them less safe. The company is hoping to see photos of the device that was used by D'Elia.