Huffing may be the cause of a car explosion death in Greeley, Colorado |

Huffing may be the cause of a car explosion death in Greeley, Colorado

Police say the found the car on fire


Inhaling compressed air from aerosol-type canisters is known colloquially as “huffing.” It can produce a high, as well as hallucinations. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, such substances are known as “inhalants” and are very toxic. They can cause extensive brain damage and even comas, but can also damage the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, in addition to the nervous system. By 2015, according to the institute, about 10 percent of Americans 12 or older had tried huffing.

A woman is dead and a man was taken to the hospital early Monday morning after a car explosion that may have been caused by the two people inhaling the vapors from canisters of compressed air.

Initially, police believed they were responding to a suspicious activity call about midnight Sunday near the intersection of 47th Avenue and 2nd Street, said Lt. Roy Smith of the Greeley Police Department. Smith said witnesses saw a woman running around and yelling for help.

Instead, police found a car on fire, Smith said, and two people who had been inside — Caleb Coulter, 37, and a woman, whose name has not yet been released. Police learned the two were “huffing” the vapor from compressed air canisters. When they tried to light a cigarette, they told police, the car exploded. Smith said the incident is still under investigation, but the compressed air appears to have caught fire.

Firefighters arrived on scene not long afterward, and Smith said crews had to break the car’s windows to release the smoke inside. Officers later found about 10 canisters of compressed air, commonly called “duster,” on the car’s floorboards.

Smith said both were taken to North Colorado Medical Center by ambulance with what appeared to be minor burns. About 7 a.m. Monday morning, though, hospital staff told officers the woman died. Smith said it wasn’t yet clear whether she died from the burns or from inhaling the compressed air. He said officers are still waiting on the results of an autopsy.

He declined to release the woman’s name, saying officials are still working to notify her family.

(Kira Hoffelmeyer/The Park Record)

Inhaling, or “huffing,” compressed air from aerosol-type canisters can cause a person to become high, and, in some cases, to hallucinate, according to the American Addiction Centers.

It also can cause drowsiness, seizures, a lack of oxygen to the brain and can result in coma. In worst-case scenarios, it can lead to heart failure, even after a single use — a phenomenon colloquially known as “sudden sniffing death,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The institute’s site warns between 100 and 200 people die from the effects of huffing each year.

Greeley Fire Marshal Pete Morgan said a report had not yet been filed for the incident. He said, while he has heard of huffing, it has caused few fires in Greeley.

“It’s certainly not a good combination, but we don’t see a lot of fires started that way,” he said, when asked about the mixture of compressed air and cigarettes.

Morgan said he has heard of people huffing vapors from cans of compressed air before, such as cans of spray paint, but said such instances are rare.

“It’s not something we see (often) even from a medical standpoint,” he said.

Tommy Simmons is the public safety reporter at The Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colorado. For questions about his coverage, email him here.

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