A 77-year-old woman from Washington state died early Friday morning after riding in a car with four coolers of dry ice in the back.
The woman had been visiting her son, 51, and his wife, 51, on Thursday, according to local paper The News Tribune. Her daughter-in-law started to drive her home that night in her son’s car — he owned an ice cream delivery service and was carrying around dry ice for an upcoming order.
When he woke up the next morning around 4 a.m. for work, he noticed the car was still gone. He found it a few blocks away along with his wife and his mother unconscious inside. After breaking the window open with a rock, he called 911. When EMTs arrived, they pronounced the man’s mother dead and took his wife to the hospital. She’s currently in critical condition. Their names have not yet been released.
The medical examiner found the mother died of suffocation, local outlet KOMO News reports.
Dry ice is carbon dioxide in its solid form, and it turns into gas when exposed to open air. The carbon dioxide can then displace oxygen in the air, which can cause difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and death, according to The News Tribune. The fumes are especially dangerous in enclosed spaces.
“Somehow or another, the fumes escaped from the coolers,” Det. Ed Troyer of Pierce County Sheriff’s Department told KOMO News, adding that it was likely a combination of factors that turned the dry ice lethal. “Possibly because it was so hot outside and because he had a newer car. It probably had better sealing and less ventilation … This all happened due to a lot of circumstances lining up. Dry ice by itself isn’t going to kill anybody.”
Deaths linked to dry ice do happen, though, Troyer told The News Tribune. USA Today reports that in 2016 a woman said she thought her brother, who also owned a delivery business, died from ingesting dry ice fumes, and another man died of carbon dioxide intoxication after hiding in a dry ice factory container.
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