Parents fighting deadly ‘choking game’ epidemic

Posted at 9:56 PM, Nov 08, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - It's happened again; a young person dead from accidental self-asphyxiation, also known as the "choking game."

13-year-old Tristan Farnsworth was found hanging from a belt in his closet last month in Clearfield, but it wasn't a suicide. His family and police say Tristan appears to be the latest victim of a dangerous activity where young people attempt to get a drug-free high.

Police say they're getting better at spotting choking game fatalities. Their goal now is to educate kids about the dangers and help parents look for potential warning signs.

Tristan's mother Britney Krueger is also speaking out, hoping she can prevent more needless deaths. She's still in shock over what happened, but she's also determined to make sure Tristan didn't die in vain.

On Oct. 18, she came home from work to see if Tristan had finished his homework. Her 8-year-old daughter went inside first and found Tristan hanging from a belt in his closet.

Known by a variety of names including "tap out" and the "Mormon high," the choking game continues to be a problem nationally and here in Utah, but Cedar City Police Det. Mike Bleak says it's completely preventable.

Bleak became an expert on the subject after being sent to a reported suicide last year. Even though Jaden Laws was found hanging from a rope, something didn't seem right. He did some more investigating and learned that Laws had also died from an episode of the choking game.

Bleak recently taught a class to other police from across Utah about how to spot signs of the choking game and how those cases differ from suicide.

Much like Tristan Farnsworth, Jaden Laws didn't leave a suicide note, both boys had close and healthy relationships with family and friends and had hobbies and interests. The one thing the pair had in common was trying to find a cheap, drug-free high.

Most kids who participate pass out and recover just fine, but when done alone and with a rope or belt, state medical examiner Todd Grey says the consequences can be deadly.

"This is something we're seeing in ten, eleven, twelve-year-old young teens. Those are tragic and they're pointless," Grey said.

Britney Krueger says she wants other parents out there to be aware of what their kids may be up to before it's too late because their kids probably already know about it.

"You know you get that cheap thrill off it and they think because it's not a drug, it's okay. But it becomes as addicting as a drug does," Krueger said.

And she wouldn't want what happened to her to happen to anyone else.