SINGAPORE: A 38-year-old woman who fell to her death is believed to have climbed through a window in her 10th storey apartment while sleepwalking, a coroner’s court heard on Thursday (May 12).
Ms Ruth Dalumpines Dulfo was found lying motionless at the foot of her block at Laguna Park condominium in Marine Parade at about 7am on Jun 7, 2021.
The Philippine national came to Singapore 13 years ago and was working at Coastal Rhythm Cafe and Bar at East Coast Park at the time of her death.
Ms Dulfo lived in the apartment with five other housemates. She had a history of sleepwalking, with at least four known instances.
Three witnesses testified on the first day of a coroner’s inquiry into her death: A police inspector, one of her housemates and a neurologist specialising in sleep medicine.
Investigating officer Gilbert Chow said police are of the view that Ms Dulfo inadvertently fell out of the window while sleepwalking, and no foul play is suspected.
Coroner Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz will conduct a further review of evidence in two weeks and issue her findings at a later date.
EVENTS THAT NIGHT
According to Ms Dulfo’s housemates, the night before her death, on Jun 6, 2021, she was at a gathering in the apartment where she consumed alcohol.
She was sober and could carry on a conversation. Toxicology tests found a high but non-lethal concentration of ethanol in Ms Dulfo’s blood after her death.
The gathering continued into the early hours of the morning. Two of Ms Dulfo’s housemates said that she was still awake and using her phone when they went to sleep at around 3am to 4am.
As all of Ms Dulfo’s housemates went to bed before her, they were unsure if she actually went to sleep that night, said Mr Chow.
At about 7.05am on Jun 7, 2021, the police received an information report that Ms Dulfo had fallen from a height.
HOW SHE FELL
A search of the apartment found three sets of open windows in the kitchen, living room and toilet in the main hall.
The window in the toilet was usually closed, Ms Dulfo’s housemate told police. The window measured 67cm wide and 50cm high, and was 1.7m above the floor.
Police found that the location of the toilet window lined up with where Ms Dulfo’s body was found, and it was open to a large extent.
They also found an overturned bottle of shampoo on the toilet floor. The positions of other toiletries were also disturbed, according to the residents.
Ms Dulfo’s DNA was found on the toilet window, where swabs were taken from the lever, which can be pushed to open the window, as well as the bottom of the window.
Ms Dulfo, who was 1.45m tall and weighed 48kg, was a “very fit” individual who would have been able to pass through the window given her stature, Mr Chow told the court.
He said that police believed a metal shower tap located in the toilet could have supported her weight, providing a surface for her to climb up and propel herself through the open window.
However, he also noted that there was no closed-circuit television footage and no witnesses to confirm that this was how she fell.
HISTORY OF SLEEPWALKING
Mr Chow said that Ms Dulfo’s sister was able to cite three times when she had sleepwalked, which all took place in the Philippines.
Two incidents involved her walking and trying to urinate or gesturing that she wanted to urinate. One of these incidents took place sometime after her father's death in March 2020.
The third incident involved her walking out of her bedroom with her eyes closed and going down the stairs. She could not be woken up, so she was turned back to the bedroom, where she returned to bed.
One of Ms Dulfo’s housemates also testified about an occasion in 2021 where she may have been sleepwalking in their apartment.
He told the court that he saw her emerging from a storage area in the apartment in the morning, instead of her bedroom. She looked like she had just woken up.
He asked her how she got there and whether she had slept there. She replied that she did not know, and they laughed it off.
Dr Pavanni Ratnagopal, a senior consultant at the National Neuroscience Institute, concluded in her expert report that Ms Dulfo was sleepwalking during the incident.
However, she said this was based on the assumption that Ms Dulfo was indeed sleeping prior to her fall.
From Ms Dulfo’s history, it appeared that she was able to carry out “quite complicated actions” while sleepwalking, such as taking the stairs and trying to urinate, said the doctor.
When asked if she thought it was possible for a sleepwalking person to climb through the toilet window in Ms Dulfo’s apartment, Dr Ratnagopal said yes.
She was also questioned about what amounted to a “complex action” while sleepwalking, and said it involved using a sequence of steps to perform an action.
She said that climbing out of windows and driving cars are among the complex actions sleepwalking people are known to perform.
The doctor told the court that a sleepwalking person would not be aware of what they were doing. Asked if they could foresee danger in their actions, she said they would only know if told about it later.
Dr Ratnagopal added that specific triggers for sleepwalking were not common, and that reports about the effect of alcohol on sleepwalking came to different conclusions.
She also said that sleepwalking generally affected young people, but although Ms Dulfo was older, life stressors can trigger it in older people who sleepwalked when they were younger.
Ms Dulfo was described as a jovial person by those who knew her. No suicide note or explanation for her death was found in her diary that was seized by police.
The only potential concern she had was about a co-payment of S$540 that she was expected to make for her family’s down payment on a house in the Philippines, according to witnesses.
Ms Dulfo’s manager told the police that some time before her death, she asked for her entire month’s salary to be remitted to her family in the Philippines.
This was unusual as she usually sent only a portion of her income to her family, according to the manager.
Mr Chow also told the court that at about 2.50am on the night of her death, Ms Dulfo sent a text message to her mother asking her if she was okay.
Judge Sripathy-Shanaz adjourned the hearing for police to look into Ms Dulfo’s usual practice of remittance to her family.
She also asked police to make further attempts to decrypt Ms Dulfo’s mobile phone and tablet in order to rule out other possibilities of how she may have died.