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GWAR guitarist died of heart attack, had cocaine in system

Cory Smoot of GWAR, as himself and as Flattus Maximus. (Photo:

GRAND FORKS - The hardcore metal rock musician found dead Nov. 3 on a tour bus in Pembina died of a heart attack and had cocaine and other drugs in his system, Sheriff Brian Erovick said Tuesday.

In fact, the "unattended death" of Cory Smoot, 34, was investigated as a possible crime scene by state and county law enforcement officers, according to documents obtained by the Herald Tuesday.

But no charges resulted from the investigation, Erovick said.

"The cause of death was a heart attack," Erovick said of the autopsy report. "He had cocaine in his system."

Other drugs also were found in Smoot's body, as well as signs of needle use, according to investigators' reports.

Smoot was a guitarist for GWAR, a costume-wearing, sci-fi, hardcore heavy metal band formed in 1984 in Richmond, Va. He joined the band in 2002, the last to play the role of "Flattus Maximus."

North Dakota's state medical examiner, Dr. William Massello III, conducted the autopsy in Bismarck on Nov. 4.

According to published reports of excerpts of Massello's autopsy provided to news sources by the family -- including one in the Richmond Times-Dispatch -- Massello said Smoot's death was caused by a "coronary artery thrombosis brought about by his pre-existing coronary artery disease."

Such a thrombosis can be caused by a clot in a blood vessel in the heart and can cause a heart attack.

The Grand Forks Herald was not able to obtain that report from Massello on Tuesday but did receive other investigative reports on Smoot's death and autopsy.

According to those reports, between 9 and 10 a.m. Nov. 3, the band's 1999 tour bus, licensed in Montana, stopped at the GasTrak service station in Pembina to gather everyone's passports in order to cross the border in Canada. Tour manager Eddy Oertell said he discovered Smoot was dead at that point, according to a report from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation provided to the Herald by the attorney general's office.

Pembina County deputies responded to the scene and questioned band members and checked out the bus.

Sheriff Erovick called the BCI for assistance about 11:30 a.m.

He also obtained a warrant, signed by state District Judge Laurie Fontaine, to search the bus, based on a deputy's affidavit there was probable cause to believe evidence of a crime or contraband that could be used to commit a crime "is being concealed" on the bus.

Band members told a deputy they had slept since leaving Minneapolis about 2 a.m. that morning, following a Nov. 2 show at First Avenue, a downtown club. They were on their way to Edmonton, Alta., where they had a show scheduled Nov. 4.

They last saw Smoot alive about the time they left Minneapolis, band members said. It takes six to seven hours to drive the 400 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Pembina.

Dr. Susan Thompson, a local physician who examined Smoot's body about noon Nov. 3, said it was cold to the touch and that rigor mortis had begun to set in, according to investigators' reports.

Smoot was wearing red gym shorts and a T-shirt and had a blanket over his body.

Investigators reported they seized, via the search warrant, in his bunk next to his body: his wallet and passport; a prescription bottle holding eight pills marked "Watson 932," a powerful and restricted form of the painkillers oxycodone-acetaminophen; a prescription for 12 of those painkiller pills from a Chicago doctor in Smoot's name; a plastic baggie containing "broken and crushed pills"; a $5 bill containing white powder residue and, in his right pocket, a lighter and two empty syringes.

They also seized the bedding around Smoot's body for possible evidence.

Band members told investigators they suspected Smoot took drugs, but had never seen him do so.

By about 6 p.m., Nov. 3, the band members were allowed to leave Pembina, crossing into Canada, on the bus.

BCI agents who observed the autopsy in Bismarck the morning of Nov. 4 reported there were puncture marks on Smoot's arms and on the backs of his hands. A preliminary drug test showed positive for "opiates and cocaine," the investigators reported.

The day after Smoot's death, the band announced their plans to complete their long tour, in part as a tribute to Smoot.

They interrupted their tour to attend the private service held for Smoot Nov. 11 in Chesterfield, Va., according to the band's website.