Man charged in death of girl who inhaled helium

A Jackson County grand jury has indicted a 32-year-old Medford man on a criminal negligent homicide charge in the death of an Eagle Point teen who suffered an embolism after inhaling helium at a party in February.

Richard Ward Mowery was arrested on a warrant at his home on Andrew Drive in Medford today.

In addition, Katherine Diane McAloon was indicted on charges of first-degree criminal mistreatment, seven counts of delivery of marijuana to a minor and seven counts of furnishing alcohol to a person under 21.

Police allege that Eagle Point Middle School eighth grader Ashley Long was drinking alcohol at McAloon's apartment in the 3100 block of Alameda Street, Medford, in February when she inhaled helium from a compressed gas canister and collapsed, police said. Several other teenagers ages 13 to 16 were with Ashley at the party. McAloon is the older sister of one of the teens at the house that night.

Mowery also was at the party and was questioned by police following the 14-year-old's death.

Medford police Sgt. Josh Reimer said the helium tank was already at the home when Mowery arrived. The homicide charge against Mowery stems from his part in encouraging the teens to inhale from the tank.

"We believe he showed them how to inhale the helium from the tank," Reimer said.

The case was presented before a grand jury on May 17.

An autopsy showed Ashley died from an air embolism caused by the inhalation of helium from a pressurized canister, police said. An air embolism occurs when air bubbles enter an artery or vein and cause a fatal blockage.

Deputy State Medical Examiner Dr. James Olson ruled that the death was "accidental."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, inhaling helium can cause dizziness and headaches. It also can cause suffocation by lowering the oxygen content in the lungs. Inhaling high concentrations of compressed helium can cut off oxygen to the brain, leading to unconsciousness or death.

Police have said that the teens weren't inhaling the gas to get high, but to alter the pitch of their voices.

Mowery was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $50,000 bail.

— Chris Conrad

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