Pubdate: Sun, 26 Nov 2006
Source: Gainesville Sun, The (FL)
Copyright: 2006 The Gainesville Sun
Author: Karen Voyles, Sun staff writer
Bookmark: (Youth)


BRONSON - Dawn Bartkus and her family have already decided what to
have engraved on her 17-year-old son's headstone. A pair of horseshoes
will be etched alongside the name of John Wilson Reynolds Jr. to
commemorate his success as a two-time junior champion horseshoe
pitcher before his death in October.

The message that Bartkus would like to etch everywhere else teens
congregate is a warning about something she calls a silent killer:

Although a final autopsy report is not yet available, family members
and investigators said they expect the report to show that John died
Oct. 12 as a result of inhaling directly from a can of compressed air,
which also contains a propellant that can produce a brief high.

In some circles, the practice is referred to as "dusting" because
youngsters use the Dust-Off brand. Dust-Off is a can of compressed air
used to blow dust off a computer.

Levy County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Scott Tummond said John's death
was the first of its kind that he was aware of in the county.

"The propellant is like a heavy gas and when you inhale it, it
interferes with the ability of oxygen to move in and out of your
lungs," Tummond said. "So when you inhale it, you are playing Russian
roulette with a fully loaded gun. That gun may misfire five times, but
eventually it will kill you."

When the inhalant does kill, it is nearly immediate, and can resemble
cardiac arrest, officials said.

A 2005 study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America concluded that
middle school students are probably unaware of the risks associated
with inhalants and are five times more likely to have tried them than
parents think.

The partnership has followed inhalant abuse for more than a decade. In
1995, researchers found that 23 percent of teens surveyed had abused
inhalants. Nationwide campaigns were launched to expose teens to the
risks involved in abusing inhalants and by 2001, teen inhalant abuse
had fallen to about 18 percent.

Over the past five years, researchers have noted an increase in
inhalant abuse, in part because youngsters now entering middle school
are too young to have gotten the message about the potential risks.

Dawn Bartkus and her husband, Mike, said there were no warning signs
that John was experimenting with inhalants or anything else.

Dawn was heading home from her job at the Ocala Star-Banner, and Mike
was at work at The Gainesville Sun when they were called home because
John had been found in the shower, a can of Dust Off at his side.

The couple recalled John as a happy high school student who frequently
told family members he loved them, enjoyed teasing his older and
younger brothers, and preferred to spend time at home rather than at
high school parties.

Tummond, who was a part of the investigation into John's death in the
bathroom of his home, said he "was not a kid we would have suspected
of getting involved with drugs."

Mike Bartkus said there were no telltale signs that John had been
experimenting with inhalants - no odd paint stains on his face or
hands, no unusual smells on his clothing and no evidence he'd been
sneaking around trying to find a can of household cleaner or other

The non-profit National Inhalation Prevention Coalition has found that
the situation surrounding John's death is a common one.

"Unless you know what you are looking for, signs of sniffing are
almost invisible" states the coalition's Web site.

About two weeks after John's death, the manufacturer of Dust-Off,
Falcon Safety Products, announced that it had completed a
reformulation that would make the brand unpalatable to potential abusers.

However, Dust-Off is just one of about 1,400 household products that
can be used to produce an inexpensive high, according to the
partnership. Both the partnership and the coalition urge parents to
spend time learning about inhalants and then talk to their children
about the dangers.

"We had a wonderful child who did well in school, was well liked. He
was nearly a perfect child and he made one mistake, a mistake that
cost him his life," Dawn Bartkus said.

John was apparently looking forward to a life playing competitive

"He would be the first one up on Saturday morning and we could hear
him out back pitching horseshoes, 200 or 250 at a time," Mike Bartkus
said. "He was already planning for his next tournament."

John's success as a member of the National Horseshoe Pitchers
Association is the reason his family decided to establish a
scholarship in his name to go to the state champion boy and girl each

"He was always trying to get more kids to pitch," his mother

"We just hope that other kids get the message that this stuff really
is a silent killer so that nobody else has to go through this," she
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