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Roach-eating champion choked to death on bug parts, autopsy finds

The South Florida man who died after winning a roach-eating contest choked on “anthropod body parts” and his own vomit, according to a report released Monday by the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office.

More than 30 people participated in the Oct. 6 contest to win rare snakes at Ben Siegel Reptiles in Deerfield Beach, but Eddie Archbold, 32, of West Palm Beach was the only one who got sick. From the qualifying round to the grand prize ivory ball python contest, Archbold ate almost 2 ounces of meal worms, 35 horn worms and a bucketful of discoid roaches.

A video shows Archbold forcing handfuls of the live bugs down his throat, covering his mouth with his hands to keep them from crawling out. He appears to be half-chewing as he swallows, finally pounding on his chest and raising his arms in triumph with bug parts poking out of his mouth.

Bill Kern, a University of Florida entomologist who has eaten his share of insects, speculated that it could have been a physical or psychological reaction that made Archbold throw up soon after the contest.

“If he was eating discoids, that’s a big insect,” Kern said. “When you bite into it, you’re going to get a gush of fat bodies, the gut content and the hemolymph — essentially insect blood. As you bite down, that’s going to put pressure on the exoskeleton, so when it’s ruptured, it’s going to squirt.”

Kern also described the legs of discoids as “covered with pretty stout spines” that could irritate the esophagus and stomach, in addition to the “crunchy, leathery, paper-like wings you have to chew up.”

That disagreeable experience was echoed by Matthew Karwacki, a 26-year-old student at Florida Career College who downed worms and crickets in the same contest. He tapped out after one roach because he “didn’t have his mind in the right place.”

“If you look at it in a real sense, they’re just invertebrates — no different than shrimp or crabs,” Karwacki said, speaking admirably of Archbold’s mental control. “If you caught them in baskets in Maryland, people would put Old Bay [seasoning] on them and gobble them down.”

Karwacki said he spoke with Archbold after the contest, and he appeared to be fine.

“When he was done, he was pretty stoked about it,” Karwacki said. “I congratulated him and told him, ‘You’re a better man than I.’ ”

After Archbold won the contest and an $850 ivory ball python, he started vomiting outside the reptile store. He collapsed a few doors down, and was taken to Broward Health North, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

No one from the reptile store, 3314 W. Hillsboro Blvd., was available for comment Monday.

Owner Ben Seigel told The Miami Herald last month that all contestants had signed a waiver absolving the store of any liability. This was the store’s first bug-eating contest, but Seigel said it is not unusual for employees and customers to dare each other to eat the specially raised and sterile insects sold in the store as pet food for reptiles.

Kern, the entomologist, said insects were “probably only a peripheral cause” of Archbold’s death. Consuming such large volumes of any food so quickly could cause someone to choke or start vomiting, he said.

“Eating bugs is something that a fourth of the world’s population does,” he said. “But usually we cook them first.”

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