Death of 17-year-old Cathedral Prep student ruled accidental; no charges to be filed

Local News

According the the Centre County Coroners Office and State College Police, the tragic death of 17-year-old Cathedral Prep student John “Jack” Schoenig has been ruled accidental due to chemical asphyxia from inhaling nitrous oxide.

On October 19, 2019, 17 year old John “Jack” Schoenig passed away at an off campus Penn State University party.

An investigation by the State College Police Department and the Centre County Coroner’s Office was conducted and revealed his death was accidental.

On October 19, 2019 police were called to a West College Avenue residence at approximately 9:30 p.m. for a report of an unconscious male who was experiencing shallow breathing. When police and EMS arrived, 17 year old John “Jack” Schoenig was unresponsive and not breathing.

The police investigation established that Mr. Schoenig was inhaling nitrous oxide by use of “whip-its,” a cartridge of nitrous oxide used to charge whipping cream dispensers. After inhaling a dose of nitrous oxide from a whip-it cream dispenser, Mr. Schoenig began to hyperventilate, became unresponsive and stopped breathing.

Residents at the scene called 911 and attempted first aid until police and EMS arrived. Police say they cooperated with the police investigation.

Nitrous oxide is a gas used as an anesthetic more commonly known as laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is also used in the food industry to dispense whipped cream. Although serious injuries and death are not a common result of inhaling nitrous oxide, death and serious injuries are a known medical risk when ingested in high doses or with repetitive use.

“The risk to our young people,” said District Attorney Bernie Cantorna, “is that the public is generally not aware of the life threatening effects that inhaling nitrous oxide can cause.”

The medical community and forensic pathologists have documented numerous cases of serious injuries from the abuse of nitrous oxide including: closed head injuries, seizures, coma, nerve and brain damage and in some cases, death.

The sale and use of nitrous oxide for the purpose of inhaling is classified as a misdemeanor of the third degree in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s “Drug Overdose Response Immunity” statute provides immunity from prosecution to those who render aid and stay with a person until police and EMS arrive. Given these statutes and the fact that the residents stayed with Mr. Schoenig until police and EMS arrived, no charges will be filed.

“Tragically, the death of Mr. Schoenig illustrates the life threatening ramifications that inhaling nitrous oxide can have,” said Bernie Cantorna. “It is important that our young people and our community understand the risk that this drug poses. It is also important for our community to know that if someone is in distress due to an overdose, alcohol or drug related, they should call 911, render first aid and remain with the person until police arrive.”

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