Man Chokes to Death in Hot Dog-Eating Contest

Holiday fun over Fourth of July weekend turned tragic in South Dakota

By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 8, 2014 1:34 PM CDT

(Newser) – Competitive eating contests were in full force over the July 4th weekend—chow-down champion Joey Chestnut even got engaged before one of his recurring food feats. But there was a tragic ending for one participant in a South Dakota competition: Walter Eagle Tail choked to death last Thursday during a hot-dog-eating contest in Custer. Although paramedics tried to save the 47-year-old at the scene after a piece of hot dog apparently lodged in his throat, Eagle Tail died after being taken to a nearby hospital. "It all happened within minutes" Custer County’s sheriff tells the Rapid City Journal.

The local chamber of commerce director said it was the first time "in memory" anyone had been injured at the annual event. It’s not, however, the first time someone has died while taking part in such a contest. A 60-year-old died during a sausage-eating contest in Romania last year, per the Huffington Post, and a Florida man choked to death in 2012 after devouring dozens of live cockroaches in a bid to win a python. That's exactly why the International Federation of Competitive Eating has strict rules in place during the contests it sponsors (it appears the Custer contest was not one of them). "Walter was just being Walter, having fun when he entered this contest," a friend tells the Journal, adding that Eagle Tail enjoyed a good joke and interacting with the customers who purchased the bear-claw necklaces he made and sold.

A Nathan's Famous hot dog is displayed Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
A Nathan's Famous hot dog is displayed Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.   (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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