JURY INDICTS SELLER OF NITROUS OXIDE
GAS LED TO THE DEATH OF BLACKSBURG MAN
Date: Thursday, May 18, 2000 Section: VIRGINIA Page: A1
By MICHAEL HEMPHILL THE ROANOKE TIMES
A plastic sack shrouding his head and sealed tight to his body with a belt around his chest, 20-year-old Andy McCoy was found dead Nov. 14 inside his Blacksburg apartment.
The Virginia Tech computer science major had not succumbed to a strange suicide or twisted murder, but rather of suffocation after inhaling nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, to get high.
Blacksburg police, later joined by U.S. Food and Drug Administration agents, learned McCoy had bought the nitrous oxide cartridges and the device used to expel the gas two days earlier from an Internet site based in Arizona, www.bongmart.com, which was offline as of Wednesday night.
A Roanoke federal grand jury indicted the Web site's owner, Lawrence C. Teiman, 36, of Tempe, Ariz., on five charges Wednesday relating to the sale of nitrous oxide to McCoy and three others in Western Virginia.
Teiman sold the gas without proper packaging and warnings even though he knew it was to be used as a drug, the indictment alleges, in violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
"These Web sites, they're selling this stuff with impunity," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig "Jake" Jacobsen, who will prosecute the case. "Hopefully word will get out, if you do sell this as a drug, you're opening yourself up to prosecution."
Teiman, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all charges, did not return a call seeking comment.
Unlike marijuana or cocaine, nitrous oxide can be legally possessed and sold in the United States, where it is commonly used as an anesthetic by dentists and to power whipped-cream canisters.
But it also gives a buzz to anyone huffing it - usually college students and young people who suck it from balloons.
Steven Hager, editor in chief of "High Times Magazine," a counterculture publication that promotes marijuana legalization, wrote in an e-mail that he's never heard of anyone overdosing on nitrous oxide. "It can be abused, however, and some people get quite compulsive with it. We call it hippy crack, and do not promote the use of nitrous in our magazine," he wrote.
With the sack over his head, McCoy probably inhaled so much that he cut off his oxygen supply and suffocated, said Blacksburg Police Lt. Gary Teaster, who helped investigate the death.
McCoy's mother, who lives in Fairfax, declined to comment Wednesday.
Indicting Teiman under FDA regulations is the same tactic federal prosecutors used in February to charge four Roanoke men with making gamma hydroxybutyrate or GHB, a body-building drug that has also been used to incapacitate women and make them vulnerable to rape. Since the indictment, GHB has been made a controlled substance.
Teiman is also accused of selling the gas to two men not named in the indictment - one from Blacksburg, the other from Charlottesville - and an unnamed Patrick County woman.
"There's other people all over the place," Jacobsen said. "Whether this leads to other investigations, that's something that we're waiting on. The number of Web sites on the Internet that offer nitrous oxide for sale are many."
Michael Hemphill can be reached at 981-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org