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Teen dies after hits of helium gas

A teenager died Saturday night after drinking and inhaling large amounts of helium, authorities said.

Ashley Long, 14, of Eagle Point, was drinking alcohol at an apartment in the 3100 block of Alameda Street in Medford when she inhaled helium from a compressed canister and collapsed, police said.

(Correction: See below.)

Medford police responded to the 9-1-1 call around 11 p.m., where medical personnel treated Long and transported her to the hospital. Shortly after arrival, however, she was pronounced dead. "Based on our investigation, it certainly appears that the inhalation of helium was a large factor in her collapse and eventual death," said Lt. Mike Budreau, Medford Police Department public information officer.

Long, an eighth-grade student at Eagle Point Middle School, was drinking with several other teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16, and Katherine McAloon, 27, who lives at the residence, Budreau said.

Investigators learned that the individuals had been smoking marijuana and drinking, and inhaling helium gas from a tank. Police believe Long collapsed seconds after inhaling helium from the canister.

Budreau explained that helium doesn't act as a drug, and likely was being used for entertainment.

"All it really does is it'll make you have a funny voice," he said, although he added that it can be fatal in larger doses.

"According to the medical examiner, there have been three cases in the past few years where people have died from a helium overdose," he said, explaining that helium also has been used to commit suicide. He said that this case appeared to be an accident, though.

Budreau said the exact cause of death couldn't be determined until an autopsy is completed, but he suspected that Long's alcohol intake also played a role in her death.

McAloon was arrested on seven counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor and two counts of delivering marijuana to a minor. She was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $38,000 bail.

Police still are looking for two individuals believed to have been at the Alameda Street residence, but left between when the 9-1-1 call was placed and the police arrived.

"This is absolutely a very unusual case," Budreau said. "Hopefully people will realize the dangers if inhaling helium."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.

Correction: The story and headline have been corrected to show Ashley Long's hometown.