Sacto 9-1-1
September 22, 2010
Family of teen who died in 'choking game' hopes to raise awareness

By Bill Lindelof

The family of a boy who they said died in a "choking game" hopes to alert other parents to the dangers of the hidden practice.

A news release from the Nevada County Sheriff's department does not disclose exactly how 16-year-old Justin Butler died. However, his uncle, Bill Buus, said today the teen died as a result of a choking game intended to produce a "natural high."

Buus said that parents know to to stay on the alert of dangers that harm teens: drugs, unsafe driving and alcohol.

"But you don't hear a lot about the choking game," he said. "I thought it was a fringe activity. But that thinking is wrong."

A 2008 article from the Center for Disease Control said the activity has led to the death of at least 82 children and adolescents since 1995.

Buus said his nephew was a talented athlete and full of promise, his uncle said.

"Because Justin was such a great kid, we thought that the best way to honor him is to put the spotlight on this activity that could endanger our kids," said Buus. "We want to put this information out there as quickly as possible to prevent another child from dying."

The death of the student athlete earlier this week was a tragic accident, according to the sheriff's department.

Butler, a member of the Bear River High School football team, died in a Sacramento hospital after being airlifted from his Lake of the Pines home.

The sheriff's news release said deputies were dispatched to the teen's home Sunday on a report of a young person who had reportedly "hung himself."

After the boy's death, Sheriff-Coroner Keith Royal said in his release that rumors began circulating about the cause. Those rumors included a football injury and the young man becoming entangled in a piece of exercise equipment.

Detectives, however, have determined that although there was exercise equipment in the room where Butler was found, "it was determined it did not cause the death." Also, neither a football injury nor suicide are suspected as the cause of death.

"There is no information or evidence to suggest in any way the victim was trying purposefully to hurt himself or end his own life," the sheriff said.

Buus said his nephew was playing the "choking game." The CDC reports that in such an activity young people either choke each other or use a noose to choke themselves.

Butler's parents have since discovered that other teens in the community are also playing the game that led to their son's death, Buss said.

The CDC reports that participants either pass out, which can lead to serious injury, or die from hanging or strangulation.

Buss confirmed that the teen choked himself by using a strap anchored on a piece of exercise equipment. He said the strap was part of the exercise apparatus.

A fun-loving kid, the teen loved sports. As for his future, "whatever he was going to do, football was going to be involved," his uncle said. "He absolutely loved it."

A wiry wide receiver for the Bear River football team, Justin Butler had scored his first varsity touchdown last Friday.

Signs, according to the CDC, that children are playing the choking game:

-- Bloodshot eyes

-- Marks on neck

-- Wearing high-necked shirts, even in warm weather.

-- Frequent, severe headaches

-- Disorientation after spending time alone.

Call The Bee's Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.

KCRA: Mourning parents warn of 'choking game'

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