Teens getting high on laughing gas while behind the wheel
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - Driving under the influence doesn't necessarily mean under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There's an alarming trend among teens getting high on laughing gas while behind the wheel.
The decision to drive is not only dangerous. It can be deadly.
Last November, an 11-year-old girl was killed at a Boyle Heights intersection when police said the driver, who was speeding and inhaling nos, caused a chain reaction crash that killed her.
And in September, police said a driver was drunk and inhaling noz when he crashed into three parked cars in South Los Angeles. Two girls who were his passengers were badly injured.
"These car crashes happen when kids inhale this stuff and they pass out," father Ed Scott said. "In almost every case it's a horrific crash and some kids die from it."
Scott personally knows the pain of losing a child to the dangers of nos. In 2014, Scott's 17-year-old son Eddie was the passenger in a car when he was killed in a wreck.
Scott said the driver had inhaled a balloon, passed out and then crashed into a tree. Eddie was killed instantly.
"My objective is to get if off the street and stop selling it to kids and stop killing kids," Scott said.
As the mayor of Rialto, a city in San Bernardino County, Scott has enlisted the help of his city's police department to go after the companies he says is suppling nos to young adults and minors.
Officers are also making more busts on the street.
Body camera footage from a Rialto police officer recorded a traffic stop where three teens were caught with a nos tank in the back seat. The teens told the officers they picked up the gas-filled tank for a party.
But that admission wasn't enough, police wanted to know where the teens bought the tank.
The teens tell the police they purchased it from a car repair shop in Ontario called Sub Zero Motorsport. It's a name police said they've heard from other people caught with tanks in their cars.
Nitrous oxide is only for legal medical use and car racing, but Rialto police suspect many automotive shops are selling it knowing young adults and minors are inhaling it.
In August 2017, Rialto police set up a sting operation at Sub Zero where an undercover officer tried to buy nitrous for recreational use.
"The undercover officer clearly told them I'm purchasing this for a party for my nephew and not only did they sell it to him the tank wasn't a good tank so they sold him another tank," Scott said.
In California, the only requirements for buying nitrous oxide is that you're over 18-years-old and that the store documents the sale.
Automotive shops also have a liability waiver absolving them of any responsibility if the gas is misused, according to Scott.
Turning away customers whether they're using it for racing or inhaling could mean losing big business.
"We've calculated that Sub Zero in Ontario is probably making as much as $320,000 a year selling nitrous oxide," Scott said.
Police cited two Sub Zero employees including the owner for selling nitrous without proper documentation. They've plead not guilty and have gone through a pre-trial hearing.
In California, the offense is only a misdemeanor and that's why Scott wants Congress and the FDA to impose more penalties for those caught selling to kids.
In his next quest to crackdown, Scott is going straight to the source. He held a protest outside another company in Long Beach called Air Source Industries.
He's also suing the company over the wrongful death of his son.
Scott's lawsuit claims the FDA identified Air Source as one of the largest suppliers of nos to automotive shops in Southern California. Air Source tanks were found during the Sub Zero sting and also during a raid at a Rialto auto body shop called RCO.
"That's the place my son bought it at," Scott said. "Those tanks also had Air Sources name on it."
The lawsuit states that, "Air Source continued to supply RCO, and other stores, with more nitrous oxide than could be sold and used for legitimate purposes, and failed to provide any warnings/labeling identifying the health and safety risks associated with inhalation."
The company responded with a statement that reads in part, "Air Source Industries…condemns the illegal sale and use of Automotive Grade Nitrous Oxide. Air Source odorizes its Automotive Grade Nitrous Oxide to discourage its illegal use and has complied with all laws and regulations pertaining to the wholesale distribution of Automotive Grade Nitrous Oxide. At no time has any state, federal or local law enforcement authority made any charge against Air Source as a wholesale distributor or in any other capacity."
In the meantime, Scott's mission continues. He says he wants to wake people up to the dangerous of nitrous, not only on the party scene, but also when abused behind the wheel.
"We as a society have a responsibility to keep our kids safe and healthy and when you sell something like this for pure greed in my opinion it's murder," Scott said.
The driver who crashed and subsequently killed Scott's son was a juvenile at the time.
He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and served a 90 day sentence, according to Scott.
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