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Alexandra teen drowned in bath after huffing butane, finds coroner

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Jan 2023, 4:33pm
Photo / File
Photo / File

Alexandra teen drowned in bath after huffing butane, finds coroner

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Jan 2023, 4:33pm

A Central Otago teenager who drowned in her bath was huffing butane at the time, a coroner has found.

Jorja Ashley Stewart, 13, was found unresponsive in her Alexandra home on July 2, 2019 and could not be revived by family members or paramedics.

No physical in-court inquest was held into the death, and Coroner Meenal Duggal released her written findings this week.

“I find that it is most likely that Jorja was inhaling/huffing Rexona in the bath with the doors and windows locked, which inadvertently resulted in her becoming unconscious and slipping under the water, drowning, prior to regaining sufficient consciousness,” she said.

Jorja’s friends provided statements confirming they had experimented with huffing on several occasions.

One told police that they would use a facecloth or towel to inhale deodorant until they experienced “head spins”.

They would repeat this two or three times in one sitting, sometimes going for half an hour.

A friend said Jorja would do it when she was “stressed or wanted to have fun”.

She was aware Jorja had been huffing on her own just a couple of months before her death because she had sent a Snapchat message to that effect.

On July 1, 2019, the teenager had asked her mother to buy deodorant – an ordinary purchase.

The next day, just hours before her death, Jorja was reportedly smiling and messaging friends on the ride home from school.

While her mother spoke with a friend, she opted to take a bath.

It was something Jorja did frequently, the coroner said.

When her sister returned home at 5pm, the teen had been in the bath for nearly an hour, and there was no response when she was asked if she wanted to go on a bike ride.

Family accessed the locked bathroom to find Jorja in the bath, a can of deodorant in the water beside her.

Police found no suspicious circumstances, and measurement of the can showed more than a third of its contents had been used.

Coroner Duggal said the dangers of inhaling butane had been the subject of numerous coronial comments and recommendations, and had resulted in public safety campaigns.

Between 2000 and 2012, 63 people had died as a result of intentionally inhaling butane-based substances, of which 87 per cent were under 24 years old, the youngest being 12.

- Rob Kidd, ODT

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