Elliott Schneider, 642 State St., died of asphyxiation after he inhaled nitrous oxide, Deputy Coroner John Stanley said Monday.
Schneider's death was preliminarily ruled accidental, and an autopsy was deemed unnecessary. Authorities will continue to investigate for the next four to six weeks, Stanley said. They will run \standard"" toxicology tests and talk to the deceased's friends and family to see if Schneider had any enemies or seemed suicidal in his final living days.
Stanley said a lack of oxygen in Schneider's body was the cause of death.
""He had a bag completely over his head sealed in a way that no oxygen was coming in,"" Stanley said.
Nitrous oxide ran directly from a four-foot high commercial tank to the bag. Stanley said although Schneider could breathe, he inhaled pure nitrous oxide instead of oxygen.
Police hope serial numbers on the tank will help them find the source.
Schneider may have died as long ago as last Wednesday. By the time Schneider's roommate, Amy Portney, found his body at 1:45 p.m. Saturday in their Hawthorne Apartments unit, he had been dead for at least 24 hours, Stanley said. Portney had just returned from Thanksgiving break.
Nitrous oxide is a gas used for a number of medical, industrial and illicit purposes. It can be stored in commercial tanks or whipping cream dispensers called ""whippets.""
It acts as a propellant in whipping cream dispensers, a booster for car engines and a painkiller for dentists' patients. When inhaled, it creates a short ""high."" Symptoms of overdose include convulsions and loss of consciousness. A lack of oxygen sometimes causes death.
Local and state authorities have recently teamed up to crack down on ""whippet"" sales by pornography, novelty and liquor stores. The last major move by state authorities included a letter to Riley's Wines of the World, 402 W. Gorham St., threatening a $10,000-a-day fine. Riley's promptly removed ""whippets"" from its inventory.
Arthur Thexton, a prosecuting attorney for the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, has worked on pushing stores to comply with nitrous oxide laws. Although he would not say whether Schneider's death would provide an extra impetus to investigate area nitrous oxide peddlers, he said he has ""always given this case high priority.""
Residents of Hawthorne Apartments, most of whom wished to remain anonymous, reiterated how highly they thought of the now-deceased occupant of apartment K.
""He was a good guy,"" Portney said Monday night.
Residents said Schneider had been depressed because he broke up with his girlfriend.