STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ)– Thursday, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna announced the results of an investigation into the death of John “Jack” Schoenig.
Schoenig, a 17-year-old from Erie, was visiting State College for Penn State’s home football game against Michigan in October, 2019.
Cantorna is not filing criminal charges related to Schoenig’s death, ruled accidental by the County Coroner who says the cause of death was asphyxia from nitrous oxide.
Cantorna says Schoenig was doing a “whip it”, inhaling laughing gas from whipped cream canisters to get a high. It’s reported that death is not a common result of “whip its” however, officials say it’s still a possibility every time they’re done.
At approximately 9:30 p.m. on October, 19, State College Police and Centre LifeLink EMS were called to 522 West College Avenue.
“There was a report of an unconscious male who was experiencing shallow breathing,” Cantorna said.
When first responders arrived, Schoenig was not breathing. Emergency workers tried to revive him, but that was ineffective and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
As stated, Schoenig died from doing a “whip-it”
“I’ve heard stories about people using them…” said PSU Student Zack Deible.
Fellow student Patrick Kerchak added: “It does happen here, there are people who do them.”
Many PSU students told WTAJ getting high off “whip its” is fairly common around campus, and many said they don’t consider it too dangerous.
“I heard it does bad things to your brain. But, I’ve never heard that it can kill you… that’s shocking. I thought maybe if you mixed it with alcohol it could,” Kerchak said.
But Schoenig’s toxicology report showed he didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in his system. Instead he was killed by inhaling too much nitrous oxide, which pushes oxygen out of the body.
“If a person [inhales] enough nitrous oxide, they don’t get enough oxygen and they asphyxiate,” Cantorna said.
He added that teenagers and young adults aren’t the only age group unaware of the dangers of “whip-its”.
“At the time that the report came in, the investigators were not aware that that was a risk,” Cantorna said, believing that a simple message needs to be relayed:
“You are risking a life-altering injury, and your own life when you do this,” he said.
Cantorna said as Schoenig began to have trouble breathing, others present at the College Ave. home called 9-1-1 right away and stayed with him until EMS arrived.
It’s possible that others inside the house were also doing “whip-its”, but Cantorna says because they stayed with Schoenig, they were granted immunity (through Pennsylvania’s Good Samaritan drug overdose immunity law) from any drug charges.
No further details on others involved in the case were revealed, since no charges were pressed.
Cantorna added that there was no indication of hazing.
This is the first death caused by nitrous oxide in Centre County.
Is this death tied PSU’s Chi Phi Fraternity?
Following Schoenig’s death, Penn State temporarily suspended the Chi Phi Fraternity, claiming members were present in the State College home when Schoenig died.
The house had no affiliation with the Chi Phi fraternity, but Penn State looked to ensure there was no connection between the 17-year-old’s death and the Greek Life organization.
Close to Thanksgiving, 2019, Chi Phi’s adviser told WTAJ that PSU had lifted the fraternity’s main suspension, but kept a social suspension (not allowing social events). This social suspension, according to Chi Phi’s adviser, is unrelated to Schoenig’s death and is still in place.
Cantorna told WTAJ that there are no ties between Schoenig’s death and the PSU Chapter of Chi Phi.
Lisa Powers, PSU’s Senior Director for News & Media Relations, told WTAJ: “First and foremost, our heartfelt thoughts go out to the family and friends of this young man.”
She added: “Penn State’s student conduct investigation into the matter continues.”