As nitrous oxide continues to be a top “party drug” for teens and young adults, FOX 11 is going undercover to locations all across the Southland to pull back the curtain on how and where the gas is being sold.
Inhaling nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas and “nos”, can give a sense of euphoria as it cuts off oxygen to the brain. But when it’s used in the wrong hands, particularly by drivers behind the wheel, innocent bystanders can pay a deadly price.
In November, 2017, 11-year-old Elektra Yepez was killed at a Boyle Heights intersection after a speeding driver caused a chain reaction crash.
Prosecutors say the driver, Joe Louis Perez, was high on nitrous oxide at the time of the crash. He was arrested at the scene, and now faces up to 13 years in prison.
Months after her death, Yepez’s family joined FOX 11 at her gravesite, as her father remembered his little girl.
“I’ll buy right next to her a little piece of land, cause I want to be with her when God calls me, I’m gonna be with her,” Joe Yepez said.
The family was joined at the gravesite by Ed Scott, who is all too familiar with their pain.
In 2014, his 17-year-old son Eddie was killed when the driver of the car he was a passenger in inhaled nitrous from a balloon and crashed into a tree. Eddie died instantly, and the nitrous canister was recovered at the scene.
“They’re basically identical cases,” Scott said. “Both boys driving the cars were inhaling nitrous oxide, they passed out, whether it be 5 seconds, 10 seconds, whatever it is, they passed out and crashed.”
Nitrous isn’t only dangerous when it’s used behind the wheel. In 2012, a 31-year-old man was killed in an accident near downtown L.A. when a nitrous tank he was handling suddenly exploded inside his shop.
The explosion was so violent, pieces of his flesh were left on the walls.
In 2015, a 23-year-old man died at a local illegal nitrous party after he was shot during a fight, his killer was never caught.
“I’m assuming he’s still out there,” said Anna Corrales, the victim’s mother. “Doing the same thing, and the guy that promotes the stuff, they’re still promoting these kind of parties, they’re still out there, they’re still doing their thing, nothing has been done.”
For years, FOX 11 has been investigating illegal nitrous parties, which are held all over the Southland, often advertised by party promoters.
The underground parties happen almost weekly. They can be found advertised all over social media, and teens seemingly have little to no issue finding the nos and using it however they see fit.
For the past several months, FOX 11 has gone undercover to multiple locations across the Southland to pull back the curtain in nitrous sales, and how young people are getting their hands on it.
At an auto repair shop in San Pedro, FOX 11 watched as dozens of teens and young adults came and went form the business, where they filled up their tanks with nos. Some brought their tanks right into waiting vehicles, while others had balloons ready to go.
A LAPD unit could be seen driving by, unaware as to what was going on.
FOX 11 saw the same thing at other auto repair shops in Carson, east L.A., and south central L.A.
Some drivers could be seen inhaling balloons while behind the wheel.
In California, nitrous is only legal for medical use, or car maintenance, and selling or possessing nitrous for illegal use is only a misdemeanor.
“The consequences just aren’t there, there’s no fear,” said Sgt. Cameron Nelson of Rialto PD.
“Prosecution is difficult, the high is so short, but so extreme that when we get on scene after a huge incident, a lot of times we can’t recognize the symptomology of it.”
Rialto PD has been trying to crack down. They previously raided RCO Auto Repair in Fontana for selling nos to minors after hours. It’s the same shop where Ed Scott says his son got the gas the day he died.
Ed Scott Sr. is fighting back. He held a protest outside of Airsource Industries in Long Beach, as he’s suing the company over the death of his son.
His lawsuit claims the FDA identified Airsource as one of the largest suppliers of nos to auto shop sin SoCal, and that their tanks were found at RCO.
“That’s the place my son bought it at, those tanks also had Airsource’s name on it, Airsource clearly knows what they were doing,” Scott said.
Airsource responded by saying they condemn the illegal sale of nitrous, and they’ve complied with all laws and regulations.
In the meantime, police say nos has turned into a regional problem, stretching from the L.A. area all the way down to San Diego, and until the penalties get tougher, more innocent victims will be caught in the middle.
“Look at the stories, look at what’s going on around us, it’s not harmless,” Sgt. Nelson said.
Under California law, selling nitrous oxide to somebody under the age of 18 is illegal, and if a company is caught doing it more than once, they can lose their state license.