Police seize nitrous oxide, balloons for distribution

3 had plans to sell gas at concert, officials say

August 12, 2004|By Lester Davis | Lester Davis,SUN STAFF

Six hundred multicolored balloons were among the drug-related items Maryland Transportation Authority Police seized when they arrested three men yesterday as the trio traveled north on Interstate 95 just south of the Baltimore Beltway.

The balloons would have been used to distribute nitrous oxide, which was stored in three large tanks that were found along with marijuana and small amounts of heroin and Ecstasy in the van the men were driving, police said.

The three, who ranged in age from 22 to 27, were headed to a concert by the rock group Phish being held in Boston last night, police said. The men planned to fill the 600 balloons with the gas, which after being inhaled produces a quick high, and sell the balloons for $5 to $10 each to concert-goers, police said.

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is used legitimately as a mild anaesthetic but if inhaled improperly can cause brain damage.

David B. Lindsay, 27, of Richmond, Va.; Jose A. Serrano, 22, of Havertown, Pa.; and Joel C. Polley, 22, of Moundsville, W.Va., were charged with possession of nitrous oxide, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Tanks of nitrous oxide are obtained by criminals on the black market and each canister, once the gas is repackaged in balloons, can yield $5,000 to $8,000 in sales, Officer Christopher Reiber said.

The three men arrested yesterday were stopped on I-95 about 10:30 a.m. for not wearing seat belts, police said.

After approaching the Dodge van, Officer Jeff Young said he noticed the top of a tank visible from under a blanket. Young said he radioed for a police dog unit to further inspect the van. Authorities said that that was when they discovered the three tanks, along with the capsules filled with illegal drugs.

Officer Robert Cashen said the nitrous oxide presented dangers beyond possibly harming those who inhaled it.

"In addition to going up there [to Boston] and possibly frying the brains of hundreds of youngsters, they could have blown themselves up," Cashen said. Nitrous oxide is highly flammable and "it's a dangerous item to transport inside of a vehicle," he said.

Cashen said nitrous oxide causes serious physical harm if abused over a long period of time, and users often inhale several balloons filled with the gas because the high - which he described as a "total out-of-body experience" - lasts only a few minutes.

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