The Broward Sheriff’s Office, ending its investigation into the Christmas Eve death of Dr. Michelle Ferrari-Gegerson, has found she died in a freak accident involving a neck massager.
Ferrari-Gegerson, 37, a Miami radiologist, was using the ShoulderFlex Deep Kneading Shiatsu massager in a bedroom of her Parkland home about 9 p.m. on Dec. 24.
That’s when things went horribly wrong: The device became ensnared in a leather cord necklace she was wearing and strangled her, according to a Sheriff’s Office report released Wednesday.
“This was a very thorough investigation,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said Wednesday. “It was complex. There was a lot to look at, but at this point in time, all indications are that this was just an accident.”
Citing safety concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week began warning consumers not to use that brand of massager. The agency is urging the public to dispose of the parts separately, so it can’t be reassembled and reused.
The ShoulderFlex is meant to provide deep-tissue massage to the neck, shoulder and back while the user lies on a flat surface. The FDA said accidents happened when items were caught in a rotating piece of the device.
The U.S. Department of Product Safety, which was corresponding with the Sheriff’s Office over Ferrari-Gegerson’s death, said on Jan. 20 that it had bought and tested the same type of ShoulderFlex massager.
The department’s findings: The machine’s twisting force was “very high.” Once something gets wrapped around the knobs, it is difficult to stop the unit, especially when the user is prone and getting a massage, the product safety department said.
Ferrari-Gegerson was a very giving, caring person and a great doctor, her friends and family said.
She worked as a radiologist at Jackson Memorial Hospital and lived in a five-bedroom Parkland home with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Gegerson, their son, Chase, and twodogs. Chase was 2 years old when his mother died, a friend said.
The night of the accident, Ferrari-Gegerson was home getting ready for her night-shift job and wrapping holiday gifts. Clad in white Capri pants and a black button-down shirt, she was in a spare bedroom surrounded by wrapped presents and paper.
She was wearing a 16-inch brown-and-black leather necklace with a sun-shaped pendant. At about 9 p.m., around the time she typically would be off to work, her husband saw the lights still on in the spare bedroom, officials said.
He entered the room and found her unresponsive, with the necklace entangled in the massager, Sheriff’s Office records show.
Distraught, he tried unsuccessfully to revive her and made a frantic phone call to 911. Paramedics arrived and pronounced her dead at 9:11 p.m.
On the tile floor, between the nightstand and the bed, deputies found the ShoulderFlex, still in the “on” position, records show. On the unit’s back was a label cautioning against wearing necklaces during its operation.
Gegerson told investigators that his wife had routinely used the device to massage her neck.
About a week after her death, a sheriff’s detective met with an investigator at the U.S. Department of Product Safety, who indicated the ShoulderFlex would be tested for safety.
Though the death looked accidental, detectives still had to rule out foul play, and set to work investigating.
They found that Ferrari-Gegerson had life insurance policies worth millions.
In the late-night hours after the accident, her husband at one point seemed confrontational with a detective, the report said. Gegerson cursed at him as he told him to just do his job and get out of the house, explaining all he wanted was to re-enter his home and retrieve the dogs, it said.
The detective acknowledged Gegerson’s behavior “could be attributed to the shock and disbelief of what had just taken place.” Gegerson also helped out that same night, participating in a videotaped interview at the sheriff’s district office.
The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office listed Ferrari-Gegerson’s manner of death as undetermined, but ruled that she died of asphyxia due to strangulation. The Sheriff’s Office relied on physical evidence to conclude her death was, indeed, an accident.
One key finding was that the mark the necklace left on her neck was a consistent line, the report said. Had there been a struggle-type scenario, there would have been some kind of deviation in the mark.
Her body had no other signs of trauma.
Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Gegerson declined to comment, citing a pending product liability lawsuit. He referred questions to his attorney, Stuart Grossman, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday despite a message left with an aide at his office.
Staff writer Diane C. Lade contributed to this report.
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