Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Nitrogen killed 4 at nursing home

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        XENIA, Ohio — Four nursing home residents who died after a nitrogen tank was hooked up to an oxygen system were killed by nitrogen asphyxiation, two coroners said Monday.

        The residents of Carriage-by-the-Lake nursing home in Bellbrook died after 10 residents at the home were stricken Dec. 7. Authorities said a maintenance worker removed a fitting from an empty oxygen tank and used it as an adapter to connect the nitrogen tank to the nursing home oxygen system.

        Authorities said the nitrogen tank had an oxygen label partially covered by a smaller nitrogen label.

        Greene County Coroner Kevin Sharrett said the victims had significant medical problems before the nitrogen tank was hooked up. He said the nitrogen, which depletes the brain of oxygen, probably caused the patients to drift into a deep state of sleep that would have ultimately resulted in a coma.

        He and Montgomery County Coroner James Davis ruled the deaths homicides even though both said that does not mean the deaths were intentional. Dr. Davis said the deaths fit the medical definition of homicide.

        The coroners refused to identify anyone who might have been responsible for the deaths. They said they plan to turn their files over to prosecutors to determine whether any laws were broken.

        Greene County Prosecutor William Schenck, who has said he believes the deaths were accidental, said a homicide ruling does not necessarily mean there was criminal activity.


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