Questions raised about huffing after college student in Claremont dies from allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide
Law enforcement say inhaling nitrous oxide is becoming common
by Wes Woods II
CLAREMONT -- Law enforcement officials said inhaling nitrous oxide - which apparently killed a Claremont McKenna College student last week - is becoming abused by more and more people seeking a high, especially teens and young adults.
Ali Wallace Mirza, 19, was pronounced dead about 2 a.m. Friday at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Police officers reportedly found used nitrous oxide containers, also known as whippets, that are used in the food-preparation industry. Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is also used as an anesthetic in medical settings.
Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Michael Parker said Wednesday "we have found the abuse of nitrous oxide is very prevalent" among people under 21.
Veronica De Alba, a deputy city attorney for Los Angeles, said Mirza's death is not an isolated incident.
"Unfortunately, we're seeing usage on the rise in California, especially in Southern California," De Alba said.
Young adults "don't think they'll do it like a drug and it won't cause them long-term harm. They just aren't aware. In fact, the usage of whippets in some studies a few years back likened it to be as strong as persons drawn to cocaine. The usage pattern is, people will take it more often to chase the high, so to speak. There's the high risk of cardiac arrest. Their bodies can't control the impurities that are taken in. It's not like nitrous like in a dentist that is filtered with oxygen and is clean. This is not medical-grade nitrous. "
Parker declined to speak about Mirza's case but said he learned of it through a Google alert.
"I was just thinking, 'Wow, another one. This is not uncommon,'" Parker said.
The captain said his understanding is that the high lasts two to five minutes.
"That's when you huff balloons. They'll huff multiple balloons. Get high, come down. It deprives the body of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can lead to death. It can also cause brain damage and loss of consciousness. Huffing a balloon, you can lose consciousness and crash a car or fall off a balcony. "
Besides death or injuries, other consequences of inhaling nitrous oxide for individuals are auto accidents or being sexually assaulted, Parker said.
Harvey Weiss, the executive director for the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition in Chattanooga, Tenn., said inhaling is "an issue on college campuses and young adults. "
Weiss said at rock concerts people will sometimes inhale from latex balloons.
"It seems to be more of a problem with people beyond high school as well as for people at rock concerts and things like that," Weiss said.
De Alba said California is lagging in introducing legislation to safeguard young adults from huffing.
"Early youth to young adults tend to abuse," De Alba said. "I think it's just because they're not aware. I think there's a need for further legislation coupled with renewed prevention awareness. "
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on March 22 arrested three people and executed 26 search warrants as part of a federal criminal investigation into the improper sale of nitrous oxide, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney's Office.
Parker said the 15-month investigation, dubbed "Operation No Laughing Matter," had caused a dent in the availability of nitrous oxide.
"Now it's underground. Prior to the warrants, it was open and sold. People involved in those businesses are out of business. Now it's sold like another drug. We can tell based on open discussions on social media about drug parties. It's decreased dramatically in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department area. "
Paul Chabot, the founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition, said the problem is not a new one.
"At the age of 12 when I was in drug rehab for marijuana, I witnessed other kids in my program using nitrous and getting very sick," Chabot said in an email Wednesday. "This was 27 years ago. The problem is not new. Despite recent and massive arrests in Los Angeles last month of the illegal sale of nitrous oxide, where more 20 federal search warrants were served and more than $20 million of nitrous oxide was seized, nitrous is readily available, legally from medical facilities and the auto repair industry. "
On Wednesday, Claremont McKenna spokeswoman Alissa Stedman said the college is focusing on assisting the family. A memorial service for Mirza will be held in the fall.
Why power down our phones on planes? The questions fly
by Andrea Sachs
When Kenneth Kirchoff notices that an airline passenger has failed to power off his gadget as instructed, he'll politely point out the oversight. He might use a nonconfrontational line such as this: "Excuse me — did you realize that you didn't turn off your device?" What he doesn't mention during this brief interaction is who he is, what he knows and why you should listen to him.
If he won't share, I will.
Kirchoff is a research and development engineer with Boeing. Since 2003, he has been testing aircraft to ensure the safe usage of portable electronic devices (PEDs) onboard, focusing on how signals emitted from passengers' gadgets can muddle pilots' communications, navigation or surveillance systems. His conclusion: "Interference is possible."
The debate over PED use on planes has turned into a seething nest of Angry Birds. On one side are passengers, legislators such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and electronics manufacturers and suppliers. These folks question the science, and sense unfairness in the rule requiring travelers to unplug all devices during takeoff and landing. This contingent wants its e-readers, its tablets, its DVD players, its video games, its Words With Friends (that one's for you, Alec Baldwin) and other techy diversions for the entire span of the journey — not just the middle portion.
Our customers "not only want to use PEDs in all phases of flight, they observe that many passengers already do, unintentionally or not," Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon, told the Federal Aviation Administration during a comment period on the topic. "They also know that pilots use PEDs in the cockpit; they see many other in-flight distractions besides PEDs; and they logically ask why PEDs are permitted on board aircraft if they actually are unsafe."
In the other corner are airline industry experts, including aviation engineers, professors and flight crew members, who support the regulation based on a variety of findings and rationales. This group, however, is receptive to the possibility of new evidence and innovations that could spark an overhaul of the current rule, as long as the adjustments don't jeopardize passenger safety.
"The science needs to be looked at again," said Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants. "We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it does not cause interference."
The FAA sits in the middle of a fray of its own creation. It established the rule and relies on airline personnel to uphold it. But the regulation isn't inscribed in stone, and the agency could grab a chisel and start chipping away at any time. Listen closely, because you may one day hear the sound of a regulation disassembling.
In January, the agency created the Portable Electronic Devices-Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PED-ARC) and invited a broad cross-section of industry experts to participate. Members include Amazon, Boeing, the Consumer Electronics Association, JetBlue and the Association of Flight Attendants, among others. The group will submit its recommendations by the end of July. The FAA will then review the material and decide whether to change the current rule or keep it as it is.
Of course, bureaucracy often moves as slowly as a snail stuck in gum, so we've got some time to kill. Let's spend some of it discussing what we know about PEDs on planes.
— — —
All electronic devices give off electromagnetic radiation and fit squarely into one of two categories: intentional emitters, which are designed to send and receive signals (smartphones, laptops, tablets) and unintentional emitters (DVD players, Nintendo games, calculators). The signal strength varies according to gadget type. Cellphones, for example, send strong signals, especially when they are struggling to stay connected to a tower. Electric razors, by comparison, have the power of a sneezing flea. Even gadgets in sleep mode emit a signal; hence flight attendants' insistence that passengers completely power off all devices.
The government bans a few PED uses on planes outright, such as making calls on a cellphone. (The Federal Communications Commission oversees this segment of the industry but leaves the rest to the FAA.) Walkie-talkies, pagers and radios also appear on the short blacklist.
"Hundreds of phones moving at that speed would introduce a lot of signaling within the network," said Philip Levis, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University, "as they jump from cell tower to cell tower."
Unsanctioned WiFi service is also forbidden. The concern: A device's dogged quest for a connection could tread on the avionic system's primary bandwidth.
"Emissions into these bands can degrade the accuracy and performance of the systems," said Kirchoff.
The blocks of time that bookend every flight are crucial moments, with heightened risk for accidents and mishaps. For this reason, the flight crew needs to weed out meddlesome distractions. In the cabin, flight attendants require passengers' undivided attention while they explain the safety procedures and prepare travelers for landing. Up in the cockpit, pilots demand ninja-like focus to perform multi-step maneuvers. A signal from an e-reader probably won't ice their systems, but it could create a distracting noise.
"You can upset certain equipment with high enough power," said Kirchoff. "This is added workload for the pilot who needs a high level of concentration."
For a loose analogy of PED interference, Levis draws on a casual conversation: "When someone is speaking to you softly in a silent room, you can hear them fine. But if someone else starts talking at the same time, you can't understand them."
A handful of personal gadgets left on may have limited or unnoticed impact on avionics, a fact probably proven on every flight. Yet multiply that number by 75 or 100 or 800, and you're talking about a loud cocktail party of chatter. "It can have a cumulative effect," said Kirchoff, "and can increase the level of noise and electronic signals."
To date, PEDs haven't caused any crashes, but pilots have noted incidents. In an October 2012 survey by the Association of Flight Attendants, nearly 12 percent of crew members said that they'd received a cockpit request for passengers to turn off their devices because of "suspected electromagnetic interference." NASA safety reports have also documented several situations involving PEDs. For instance, a few years ago, a Canadair pilot noted a compass system malfunction after takeoff. The issue cleared up after a passenger switched off his iPhone.
Kirchoff has heard of similar anecdotes, although the Boeing scientist and his colleagues have never corroborated these reports. But he still supports the FAA rule.
— — —
Of course, we — a royal pronoun that includes Kirchoff — are only human. People can be forgetful or lazy and neglect to turn off their gadgets. According to the flight attendants' study, nearly 75 percent of surveyed crew members have witnessed passengers disobeying the PED policy on every flight. Almost 83 percent of respondents said that the violation involved a refusal to turn off a cellphone.
In a separate study, the Consumer Electronics Association conducted a survey of in-flight habits in 2003 and again in 2013. A key discovery: "Airline passengers are less concerned about the potential for interference with aircraft systems caused by PEDs than they were a decade ago."
Between takeoff and landing, the rules do loosen up. Some international carriers, such as Qatar Airways, Ryanair and Lufthansa, provide in-flight cellphone service. Passengers use their own phones inside a telecom bubble designed and certified specifically for the aircraft.
"Some airlines have installed systems to make this possible without interfering with airline systems or ground-based cellphone systems," said Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association.
In addition, a growing number of airlines (United, Southwest, American, JetBlue, etc.) are offering Internet through a special WiFi plan. The low-fare bus model has sprouted wings. And of course, passengers are free to switch on their e-whatevers — in airplane mode only — once the plane reaches a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet. They can noodle around with their gadgets until the final descent.
"It's what, 20 minutes, maybe less than that?" said Caldwell, referring to the no-PED time frame.
One of Boeing's projects is to design and build an aircraft tolerant of PEDs. Kirchoff said that the models are in"testing phase." But the experts will need to put on their running shoes to keep up with technology.
"Wireless and electronic technologies change so quickly," said Levis, "and planes are intended to last for decades."
Levis is an advocate of the current FAA rule. "I'd be very uncomfortable if people had many kinds of electronic devices communicating wirelessly during flight," he said, "in part because some might be rare or do strange things that nobody has tested for safety in a plane."
Flight attendants, who already fight for passengers' attention, are also partial to the regulation. "We are first responders, not the PED Brigade," said Caldwell.
Kirchoff also sits on the turn-them-off side of the fence.
"There are a lot of layers of safety," he said. "If you remove [one] layer, you increase the probability of something happening."
He also brings up a related hazard that you don't need a Ph.D to understand: "You don't want to have laptops flying around."
Force Protection Excercise: Tests Fort Hood, community response to disaster
Suspicious packages at Central Texas College and Harker Heights High School, an explosion at a building on post and a fuel spill into an installation waterway served as training scenarios for Fort Hood's annual postwide Force Protection Exercise May 14-16.
The annual training event tests the installation's emergency response capabilities and ability to work with outside organizations in the event of a real-world incident.
“An exercise like this is very important to us,” Incident Commander and Fort Hood Fire Chief Billy Rhoads said. “It prepares us for a real-world incident.”
The most visible response during the exercise though was the arrival of police, fire and emergency medical assets and personnel as they converged on the exercise's most graphic scenario, an explosion at Resource Management's Bldg. 4613.
Victims made-up to illustrate the types of traumatic injuries seen in an explosion littered the area around the building.
Moulaged victims help with training the medical and fire personnel.
“It makes things much more realistic for us,” he said. “It's easier to treat a victim with the (simulated) injuries that are visible and responders can focus on the treatment.
Even though the injuries and the incidents were simulated, the response was realistic and accurate for those on-scene and behind-the-scenes.
Fort Hood fire and police responders from the Directorate of Emergency Services and related agencies received information and managed the incident response from the Mobile Command Center, which was stationed near the Resource Management building site along the railhead.
Inside the MCC was a cacophony of activity as radios relayed information from dispatchers and on-scene responders. DES officers joined representatives from the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security to manage the incidents, coordinate responses and relay information to Fort Hood senior leaders.
Although the scenarios that played out during the exercise were different, the management and coordination involved was familiar to those inside the Mobile Command Center, police Sgt. Andrew Samarippa, DES Community Policing Section, said.
“Each incident is different, but the principles of managing a critical incident response are relatively the same,” he said. “Overall, an exercise like this allows us to work with our partners inside and outside our organization to better present the community with the ability to respond in a real-world incident.”
Rhoads agreed, noting that even though the response during the exercise could seem chaotic, it is anything but.
“Everything we do today is very slow, very safe and methodical,” Rhoads said. “We try to run all scenarios the same.”
Running the exercise as a real-world incident meant a lot of documentation for those managing and coordinating the response.
“Everything we do on the scene has got to be documented,” Rhoads said, noting that the scene and response must be well documented and evidence must be preserved.
Samarippa logged information and created a timeline as events and their responses developed.
DES School-based Law Enforcement Officers Patricia Thomas and Gabriel Vazquez tracked and logged all communications from Fort Hood dispatchers and relayed the information to others in the MCC.
“We are all trained to do this,” Vazquez said. “Mobile Command is the responsibility of the Community Policing section.”
Information received was disseminated to Rhoads, who also maintained contact with the Emergency Operations Center inside III Corps.
This year's exercise was much larger than those in previous years because scenarios were moved out into the communities, the fire chief said.
Fort Hood Police Capt. Jennifer Rounds, a patrol captain for DES and the senior law enforcement representative in the command center, helped coordinate, direct and pipeline requests to Fort Hood's Emergency Operations Center at III Corps headquarters.
“We get information as it occurs so we have a real-world response,” Rounds said.
She said the annual postwide exercise provides DES personnel the opportunity to work cooperatively with their community partners off the installation and serves as a good way to prepare for a potential disaster.
“It's hectic,” Rounds said about the exercise. “They always throw us the worst possible scenarios.”
One of the biggest benefits for the emergency responders is the practice they get with efficient and accurate communication.
“Training like this allows us to continually improve,” Samarripa said.
The exercise even included the need for contingencies when communication fails.
“As part of the exercise, we simulated failure of communications in one area,” Rhoads said. “We took steps to work around it until we were able to communicate.”
Although fire, police and emergency medical responders train and respond to real-life emergencies consistently, the exercise puts all of their capabilities into play and helps give an idea of where the responders are doing well and where training programs could be enhanced.
“Each year we get better,” Rhoads said. “We take lessons learned (from previous exercises and real-world incidents) and incorporate those into our response. If something is not working well, we incorporate that into our training to ensure we are training on the right level.”
This year, the exercise expanded outside the gates and included several community partner agencies.
By adding the outside agencies, Fort Hood was able to test their responses with those communities that the post shares memorandums of agreement for support and assistance.
“We work with all the local 911 dispatchers and utilize the MoAs with our off-post partners,” Rounds said.
Coordinated response efforts and a strong relationship with agencies outside the gates improve Fort Hood's ability to effectively respond to an emergency.
“We rely heavily on our community partners and they rely on us,” Rhoads said. “The mutual aid agreement is something we live by.”
Moss Point taking new look at 2006 double murder cold case, asking community for assistance
by Gareth Clary
MOSS POINT, Mississippi -- Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis announced today that he is reopening a 2006 double murder cold case and has been approved to use drug forfeiture money to bring in a team of cold case specialists to bring justice in the deaths of Gary Riley and Brandon Taylor.
Riley and Taylor were shot, killed and robbed as they sat in a vehicle in a Moss Point subdivision in April of 2006.
Two suspects were arrested - LeDerrick Brown and Terrance Coleman, both of Moss Point - but the charges were dismissed right before they went to trial on capital murder trial because of the loss of evidence by the previous administration of Moss Point chief Sheila Smallman.
"We want to send a message that this case has not been forgotten," Davis said as he spoke to members of the victims' families and the media. "It's important to me to bring resolution to this case. It's important to the mayor and the board and the community."
Davis denied to reveal how much drug forfeiture money was approved for the outside cold case investigative team or to identify them specifically.
"They are law enforcement officers who have worked in cold cases before and have had success solving very old crimes," Davis said.
The families of the victims were grateful that the case is getting more attention.
"It's been a long time coming," said Melonee Wilson, mother of Brandon Taylor. "At times I just felt like the justice system didn't care, but I've kept in constant contact with the district attorney (Tony Lawrence). It's a bittersweet thing. I miss my son. My two grandbabies don't have a father. My son was murdered and all I want is justice. I'm past the stage of anger. I just want justice."
Davis and the families also appealed to the community to come forth with information about the crime. In addition to the lost evidence hurting prosecution, Lawrence noted the lack of cooperation of witness in providing pertinent information about the case.
"It's very disappointing when you know there are people who saw something and won't come forward," Lawrence said at the time the charges against Brown and Coleman were dismissed. "There were 10 people standing nearby when this happened and we can't get them to cooperate or testify in court."
When one of the family members asked Davis what they could do to help, he gave them specific instructions to keep those conversations private.
"Answer their questions and do not discuss it with anybody," Davis said. "Reading over the file there was a lot of quote-unquote street talk before. We don't want that this time. Talk to law enforcement and law enforcement only."
Davis also indicated those refusing to cooperate in the case could also face charges.
"I wish community policing worked around here," said Stacey Riley, Riley's sister. "If you see something, open up or the same thing will just keep happening over and over again. The community plays a major part in solving crimes. Community policing can work if people will cooperate."
Davis said the lost evidence has been recovered, which had included jail audio recordings, 911 tapes, autopsy phots and shell casings.
"We're breaking down the case, evaluating evidence, doing an analysis of what was submitted to the crime lab," Davis said. "We're completely re-investigating this case. I'm confident that we will bring those responsible for this crime to justice. There are individuals still in this community who are aware of what happened that particular night and it's my intention to hold those individuals that have information accountable. There will be no stone left unturned."