Chemicals Found at Oakland Man’s Death Scene Could Have Posed Hazards to First Responders

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One of the Hazmat team wearing a protective suit approaches the vehicle where the deceased man was found while another stands safely behind the area barricaded with caution tape. [All photos provided by Cal Fire.]

On Tuesday around 8:50 a.m., when a 28-year-old male was discovered not breathing in a closed vehicle on Lighthouse Road, Petrolia Fire responded to the scene. “They took the young man out of the car to perform CPR,” said Cal Fire spokesperson Laura Coleman.

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A member of the Sheriff’s Department observes as the Humboldt Bay Fire Hazmat team works to discover what chemicals were found in the vehicle.

Petrolia Fire crews did CPR for a long time, Coleman said. Eventually the man, David Charles Yale Bush, from Oakland was pronounced dead. A deputy coroner was dispatched to the scene as well as members of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

Meanwhile, inside the car, crew members discovered two containers of chemicals that were unknown to them, explained Coleman. Humboldt Bay’s Hazmat team came out to test the materials.

“Sulfuric acid and [formic]* acid were the chemicals in the vehicle that required a HAZ MAT response from Humboldt Bay Fire Department,” explained Coleman. Coleman said that those two chemicals can make carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can be lethal in enclosed spaces. According to this abstract of an article in a scientific journal, when present in enclosed spaces, it “poses significant hazards for death investigators, first responders and bystanders.”

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A Hazmat team from Humboldt Bay Fire tests the chemicals near the vehicle where the deceased man was found. [Photos provided by Cal Fire.]

An autopsy for the deceased has been scheduled for this Friday in order to discover the cause of death.

Anyone with information should contact the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

Earlier Chapter: Coroner Responding to a Death in Petrolia; Hazmat Situation

Note: An earlier version of this story said that fumaric acid was one of the chemicals used. That is incorrect.

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4 comments

  • Sad story.

    FYI, PubMed is not a journal, it is an online database, the journal that the paper was actully published in was, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, I suppose “obscure” is relative.

  • Was it really fumaric acid or was it actually formic acid? I can’t find anything in the literature about a reaction with fumaric acid being used to produce carbon monoxide for a suicide attempt, though formic acid and sulfuric acid are occasionally used to produce carbon monoxide and have been used in suicides. The reaction with fumaric acid certainly could be possible, but it would seem that the individual would have needed quite a knowledge of chemistry and access to chemicals to think of this and make it work. On the other hand, the formic acid reaction seems very well known as a method of suicide. They should write this up in a journal if it did occur as reported here.

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