A Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in western South Dakota turned fatal when a contestant choked to death.
Participants were shocked when one of six contestants — Walter Eagle Tail, 47, of Custer, began to choke while trying to win the contest. Eagle Trail died at a hospital Thursday after attempts to save him at the scene of the incident failed, Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler told the Rapid City Journal.
“There was someone doing CPR when we arrived,” Wheeler said. “He probably just suffocated. It got lodged in his throat and they (paramedics) couldn’t get it out.”
“It all happened within minutes,” the sheriff said.
The Customer Chamber of Commerce, who sponsored the hot dog eating contest, subsequently canceled a pie-eating contest scheduled for Friday.
“We are at a loss for words,” Chamber Executive Director Dave Ressler said. “We are mourning for Walter and his family right now.”
Competitive eating contests are a popular Fourth of July staple. Eight-time champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut managed to eat 61 hot dogs in 10 minutes at an annual contest held in Coney Island, New York, on Friday – eight dogs short of the record 69 he consumed at the 2013 competition.
George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating, a competitive eating organization based in New York, said organizers do all they can to avoid tragic fatal accidents from occurring during contests.
“We always make sure it’s in a controlled environment,” Shea said. “We organize the entire thing around safety. (Just as) if it’s football or hockey or auto racing, we approach it as a top priority.”
Funeral arrangements were pending for Eagle Tail, whom friends described as a fun-loving, kind and caring man according to Seattlepi.com.
“Walter was just being Walter, having fun when he entered this contest,” said Ardis McRae. “He was just having a good time.”