Local pulled laughing gas victims from car
By Jano Gibson, Les Kennedy and AAP
September 19, 2005 - 12:34PM
People do "weird and wondrous things" to get high but the four people who tried a deadly experiment with laughing gas were old enough to know better, NSW Police say.
One man has died and three others were in a critical condition after the four allegedly inhaled nitrous oxide in a car at Toongabbie, in Sydney's west.
The car was parked on the front lawn of the dead man's house. Little is known about the victims, although intitial inquiries suggest all four had been together the previous evening.
Blacktown police Chief Inspector Damon Cox said a local resident found the four in a semi-conscious or unconscious state inside the car about 7.45am yesterday and dragged a couple of them out.
The gas was flowing out of a cylinder sitting in the back of the hatchback. The windows were sealed.
The man, 38, and the woman, 23, were clinically dead when ambulance officers arrived, police said.
All four were taken to Blacktown Hospital, where the man was declared dead on arrival.
The woman, from Maraylya near Windsor, remained in a "very critical condition" in Westmead Hospital, where she is fighting for her life.
The other two males, a 33-year-old from Toongabbie, and a 22-year-old from Pennant Hills, were treated and released from hospital last night.
Police have been able to speak briefly to them.
Although the blue cylinder was marked "nitrous oxide", police were waiting for confirmation of the gas inside the cylinder.
"Now while we can't confirm the contents until they are examined, we believe that's what we're dealing with," Inspector Cox said.
"It's a hatch vehicle so whatever was released in the boot could freely get into the remainder of the vehicle."
He said toxicology tests from the post-mortem examination on the dead man were expected to take a week. An analysis of the cylinder's contents was expected tomorrow.
"I can say that a one-metre long cylinder labelled 'nitrous oxide' was recovered from the vehicle but we have not been able to establish what the contents of it [the cylinder] are at this stage," he said.
"People do strange and funny things to try and get high," Inspector Cox said. "If that is the case, what has happened here then we are discouraging it."
Police said the cylinder's valve appeared to have been opened intentionally.
Inspector Cox told ABC Radio earlier: "[The neighbour] could smell a bit of a smell inside the car, a sort of a sweet smell, so he's rung Triple-0.
"His actions have actually saved a few of their lives."
Inspector Cox would not confirm or deny that other gas cylinders were located at the house where the car with the four people was found.
He said he was "unsure" if anyone would be arrested over the matter.
He also warned against anyone trying the drug.
"If anyone is contemplating using this kind of gas as a means of getting some type of kick we strongly say that they shouldn't do it. The health consequences can be dire."
He said it was an unusual situation, but was not a first in his policing career.
"People do some weird and wondrous things to try and get a bit of a buzz, or whether in fact it was an accident, we don't know but certainly it's not a first," he said.
"The gas itself, they commonly call it laughing gas, so whether these people were sort of using it to maybe get a bit of a high or something like that, but it obviously had disastrous effects."
He said the four were old enough to know better.
"They're certainly adults that should know better and if, in fact, they are fooling around with gases like this, it certainly gives a strong warning."
The emergency services director at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, Dr Gordian Fulde, said it is a lack of oxygen, rather than the gas itself, that is deadly.
"The thing that kills people and makes them very sick is not the gas, it's the exclusion of oxygen - the same thing goes for smoke or chemical fumes when people are working in enclosed spaces," he told ABC Online.
Union Street resident Winston Yip, 17, said his mother had seen similar behaviour outside the house where the four were found unconscious yesterday.
"My mum apparently thinks she's seen it before. They usually go in the car for a long amount of time and then come out," he said.