UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - A bizarre death in Pierce County was caused by dry ice, according to investigators.
One woman died and another remains in critical condition after they were found in a car early Friday morning with four coolers of dry ice.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said an ice cream salesman kept coolers of dry ice in the back of his car. Investigators said his wife borrowed the car to take his mother home.
“His mom and his wife got in the vehicle to give his mother a ride home. Somehow or another, the fumes escaped from the coolers,” Det. Ed Troyer, with Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Hours later the man called 911 when he found both women and the car on the side of the road, just blocks from his home.
The medical examiner said the man's 77-year-old mother likely died of suffocation.
Investigators said by itself, dry ice isn't deadly, but it can be dangerous. According to the University of Washington Department of Environmental Health and Safety, dry ice becomes a gas when exposed to open air. The fumes can be dangerous in closed off spaces.
“Possibly because it was so hot outside and because he had a newer car. It probably had better sealing and less ventilation. It was a combination of things that went terribly wrong,” said Troyer.
Dry ice is often used when shipping perishable goods. It's carefully packaged with warning labels.
"This all happened due to a lot of circumstances lining up. Dry ice by itself isn't going to kill anybody," said Troyer.