News, Training

Washington County Authorities Experience First “Chemical Suicide” Call

It was a first for Washington County authorities: chemical suicide.

In response, officials are thinking of putting together training materials for others who might deal with an emerging trend.

“It’s a new phenomenon,” Washington County sheriff’s Cmdr. Brian Mueller said. “(Suicidal people) mix household chemicals in a bucket in a car, which creates a deadly gas.”

The county received a report Sunday, April 29, of a “slumper” at Point Douglas Park in Denmark Township, Mueller said. When first responders arrived, they detected the faint smell of chemicals coming from the car and spotted the bucket inside, so they backed off until the St. Paul hazardous materials squad arrived.

Mueller likened the scene to a meth lab and said the St. Paul hazardous-materials team has responded to several similar incidents in the metro area.

“It was a first for us,” he said of the Washington County sheriff’s office.

Chemical suicide poses a risk to first responders, who may not know what they’re walking into when they open the car door, Mueller said. If they’re not aware of the suicide method, they may inadvertently inhale potentially deadly gases.

In some cases, Mueller said, the suicidal person puts a warning note on the car for whoever finds the body. But in Sunday’s case, there was only a suicide note inside with the dead man, a 42-year-old from Prescott, Wis.

Mueller said his department is “compiling the lessons learned from this incident to share with our first-responder partners” to ensure their safety at such a scene.