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'Huff' riding: Despite arrests, law enforcement says inhaling-and-driving not on rise

Max Hrenda • Jul 18, 2014 at 9:47 PM

Within the past four days, two Johnson City drivers were arrested on suspicion that they crashed their vehicles after “huffing” aerosol inhalants while driving.

On Tuesday, Johnson City police arrested Norman Colvard Reece, 25, 2264 Forest Acres Drive, while Friday, the Carter County Sheriff’s Department arrested Dreama Kelley Barnett, 19, 135 Cedar Grove Road, on charges of driving under the influence.

In each case, authorities said, both Reece and Barnett told the arresting officers they had used inhalants — specifically air duster — before or while driving.

Despite the close proximity both in timing and location of the incidents, law enforcement officials from both Johnson City and Carter County said they were not, in all likelihood, the beginning of a new trend.

“It was probably something very isolated,” said JCPD Capt. Debbie Botelho. “It might be something we see more of, maybe, but it sounds like these are just two isolated incidents.”

“Most of your DUI cases stem, obviously, from alcohol, or prescription pain medication,” said CCSD Capt. Mike Little, who also heads up the department’s drug crimes unit. “To see one, or, in this case two, in such a short time span come from inhalants is definitely rare.”

Reece was arrested July 15 at around 3:05 p.m. after the JCPD received a call of a hit-and-run collision on LP Auer Road. The 911 caller -— who was able to produce video footage of the collision — followed the damaged vehicle to 804 Huffine Road, which is where police said officers found Reece in the driver’s seat.

Reece told officers he had driven off the road and ripped his bumper off while driving to a friend’s house, but, police said, his pupils were fixed and did not respond to light. After Reece gave officers permission to search his car, police said, those officers found three cans of air duster, two of which were empty and one of which was cold to the touch. Police said it was then that Reece told officers he “huffed” the duster to become intoxicated because he had a bad day.

Additionally, police said officers found a rifle, two pistols and “several cases” of ammunition in the trunk. Reece was charged with driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident and going armed while intoxicated.

Three days after Reece’s arrest, Barnett was arrested on similar allegations. At around 2:23 Friday morning, CCSD deputies responded to a call of a single-vehicle accident at 117 Cedar Grove Road, in a portion of Carter County annexed by Johnson City. After their arrival, deputies said, the driver, identified as Barnett, appeared impaired in both speech and demeanor.

Deputies said Barnett told them they would find marijuana and a can of air duster inside her vehicle after she was asked whether there was anything illegal in her car. Later, deputies said, Barnett told them she was inhaling the air duster during the time of the accident and was then arrested. She was charged with driving under the influence, illegal use of an inhalant and possession of a schedule VI drug.

Though the incidents happened within days of each other, Little said he was unaware of an overall spike in the numbers of people driving under the influence of inhalants.

“Most officers do try to stay very current on trends,” he said. “There are always new things coming around the bend ... or older drugs making a comeback. As of right now, I’ve not seen anything on the radar to lead me to believe ... that’s something that’s newly trending.”

While the use of inhalants may not be on an upward trend, those who do choose to use them, according to Botelho, are aware of how to acquire them and what to acquire.

“The people who do that know what to buy and what not to,” Botelho said. “When they go and buy stuff like that, they know what they’re buying. But you don’t see a lot of people do that.”

Although he and his officers don’t encounter many drivers under the influence of inhalants, Little said officers were well-equipped to recognize the signs of intoxication by inhalants.

“Fortunately for law enforcement, most of the things we look for in a traditional DUI ... would be prevalent as well with the use of inhalants,” Little said.

While both Botelho and Little agree that the timing of the two arrests may have been coincidental, they also agree that driving under the influence of inhalants is no less dangerous than any other intoxicant.

“That stuff causes major brain damage,” Botelho said. “(While driving), you could hurt yourself, but not only that, you could hurt innocent bystanders, people (or) families. It’s not a very good idea at all.”

“I can’t say that it poses a greater risk with regard to DUI with someone who’s under the influence of alcohol or something else,” Little said. “But it definitely ranks on that same danger level. It poses a tremendous risk to anyone traveling on a roadway.”

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.

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