BikePortland.org

Portland firm will file lawsuit against aerosol makers and sellers to protect road users from ‘driving zombies’


Joleen Braasch-Berry.
(Photo courtesy Thomas Coon Newton & Frost)

Lawyers for the family of a Salem woman who was hit and killed while bicycling in October 2020 will file a lawsuit on Monday against the manufacturers of inhalants they say turn drivers into “zombies”.

Joleen “Jo” Braasch-Berry was 26-years-old and recently married when she left her job as an elementary school librarian. Braasch-Berry was riding in an unprotected, paint-only bike lane on NE Cherry Street in northeast Salem when the driver of a car failed to handle his vehicle and struck her. The man who hit her, who was arrested and charged with manslaughter and DUI, was seen on security video minutes before the crash leaving a Home Depot and inhaling a can of “CRC Duster”, a popular brand of aerosol spray used to clean computer keyboards and other types of electronic equipment.

On Monday (August 9th), Portland law firm Thomas Coon Newton & Frost (a financial supporter of BikePortland) will hold a press conference outside Multnomah County Courthouse to draw attention not only to this tragedy but to the issue of people who drive while intoxicated with inhalant products. Their lawsuit will be against Duster manufacturers and distributors on behalf of the estate and husband of Braasch-Berry.

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“We hope the unique facts of this case show the responsibility those who profit from Duster sales have for the wreckage that results from failing to take steps to protect us. The same steps as have been used with opioids, glue with intoxication ingredients and antihistamines,” reads a statement form TCN & F. “The known abuse of these products and catastrophic results from the actions of drivers suffering from the acute effects of inhalants create a responsibility for manufacturers and sellers to better protect the public.”

Dust removers like CRC Duster are made of difluoroethane, a propellant that was once studied as a surgical anesthetic because it is a well-known central nervous system depressant. Products containing this ingredient are sold in big box retailers, are known to be addictive and to cause severe intoxication in users; but there are no restrictions to buying them. According to TCN & F, nearly three million people are estimated to intentionally inhale dust removers to get high every year and abuse of the products accounts for more car crashes than any other type of inhalant.

Veteran bike advocate and TCN & F partner Ray Thomas knew Braasch-Berry when she attended Hillsboro High School. “She was a delightful person and her death was totally unnecessary that maybe some good can come from using what happened to her to publicize the largely unrecognized dangers to road users from drivers high on inhalants.”

Braasch-Berry’s husband and other road safety advocates will attend Monday’s press conference, which is slated to begin at 3:00 pm on Monday at the public entrance to the (new) courthouse on SW 1st Avenue.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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