A young man found dead in a car in the parking lot of the Walmart in Midlothian over the summer died from inhaling cans of compressed air, the state medical examiner's office has determined.
The 28-year-old victim, who had been dead several days before his body was discovered June 12, died from the toxic effects of inhaling Difluoroethane, a halogenated hydrocarbon used as a propellant in products designed for dusting electronic equipment and air brush painting.
The man was a graduate of James River High School and Virginia Military Institute, and had been serving in the National Guard about the time of his death.
Chesterfield police Capt. Michael Louth said several of the cans of compressed air that investigators found outside the victim's car had been purchased at the Walmart on June 8 - four days before his body was found.
Police were called to the scene after someone who had seen the man in the same car a day earlier - and thought he was sleeping - observed that he was still in the vehicle.
Aerosolized computer keyboard cleaner contains compressed gas, and authorities have cited such products as being abused by people to get a cheap, quick high. This form of inhalant abuse, known as "huffing" or "dusting," can paralyze the user for several minutes and provide a feeling of euphoria, according to news reports.
But dusting and huffing can result in damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and liver, as well as death. In computer cleaning products, a Freon type of gas, or fluorinated hydrocarbon, is the dangerous ingredient.
Some retailers restrict the sales of computer cleaners to customers over 18 years old, and many have placed warning labels on the tops of cans.
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