Could Amanda Bynes’ Dropped Bong Have Killed Someone?

Answers to your questions about the news.
May 29 2013 3:54 PM

You Dropped a Bong on Me

Could Amanda Bynes have killed someone by tossing glassware out of a 36th-floor window?

Actress Amanda Bynes appears in a Manhattan courtroom in New York, denying charges of possessing marijuana and tossing a bong out of the window of her 36th-floor Manhattan apartment on May 24, 2013.
Actress Amanda Bynes appears in a Manhattan courtroom in New York, denying charges of possessing marijuana and tossing a bong out of the window of her 36th-floor Manhattan apartment on May 24, 2013.

Photo by Reuters TV/Reuters

Actress Amanda Bynes accused the New York Police Department of sexual harassment on Tuesday, after her arrest last week for allegedly throwing a glass bong out of her 36th-floor apartment window. Bynes, who claims the item was a vase, has been charged with reckless endangerment. Could a bong dropped from that height kill a pedestrian?

Yes. A 36th-story window is about 460 feet high. By the time a bong dropped from that height reached the ground, it would likely be traveling 115 miles per hour. (It takes a bong more than 350 feet to reach terminal velocity. Air drag would have minimal effect on the speed of the falling bong.) A typical glass bong weighs between 2 and 3 pounds, which means it would have been carrying more than 1,100 foot-pounds of kinetic energy on impact. Therefore, if the bong were unbreakable, the victim’s skull would have to absorb nearly 34,000 pounds of force to bring it to a stop before it crashed into the brain. That’s about 10 times more force than the strongest human skull can tolerate. Studies on cadavers suggest that it takes between 475 and 3,800 pounds of force to break a skull, depending on the location of the impact.

Not all of the force would be absorbed by the skull, of course. Some of it would go into shattering the glass and sending the fragments flying. It’s unlikely, however, that the breaking bong would absorb enough of the force to save the victim in the event of a direct hit. The glass in a high-quality bong is 5 millimeters thick, about as thick as a home window pane. Imagine trying to shatter a window at high speed with the crown of your head.

Although death is a possibility when hit in the head by a speeding bong, it would not be assured. Much would depend on where the bong struck the unlucky pedestrian, the orientation of the bong at the moment of impact, and the characteristics of the individual victim. There is as much as a fivefold difference in the amount of force required to fracture the same bone in different individuals. Even if the bong struck a victim square in the crown, there have been extraordinary feats of survival after a major collision. Five years ago, for example, a window washer in Manhattan plunged 500 feet to the ground and survived, even though many people die after a 40-foot drop.

Americans likely underestimate the destructive force of glass, because we’ve seen scores of movie scenes in which actors smash bottles over one another’s heads and continue fighting. Those bottles are usually made of candy glass, a form of sugar that simulates actual glass, to prevent injuries to actors. In the real world, people have died after having bottles smashed on their skulls.

Falling glass has killed people in the past, but window panes are more often to blame than bottles or bongs. In 1923 a 9-year-old Wisconsin boy died when a window pane dislodged from its frame, fell 60 feet, and struck him on the head. In 1999 a piece of glass fell from a 29th-story window in a building on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, killing a woman.

Explainer thanks James Kakalios of the University of Minnesota, author of The Physics of Superheroes.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.