RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- . After a dangerous rescue along Interstate 70, a 20-year-old man has passed away after police say he mixed chemicals in his car to create a poisonous gas, breathing in the toxic fumes.
The suicide forced authorities to shut down both westbound lanes of Interstate 70 from 10:30 Monday night to 5:30 Tuesday morning.
At 10:24 PM Monday, Riley County Police Dispatch got a 911 call from Jonathan Seuell, a 20-year-old Lawrence man, saying that he needed the phone number to the suicide hotline. Seuell did not want to tell dispatchers where he was but they were able to trace his phone and found that he was on I-70 near Manhattan.
At 10:45, a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper and Riley County police officer found Seuell’s car, a 1997 Honda Civic, stopped on the north shoulder of the westbound lanes of I-70 near milepost 318. As the trooper and officer approached the car, Seuell called Riley County Police Dispatch again, revealing that there were chemicals inside his car and asked that the officers stay back unless they were wearing chemical suits.
Captain Kurt Moldrup, an administrator for the Riley County Police Department, says Seuell had mixed chemicals together to create hydrogen sulfide which emits deadly fumes and that a placard had been placed on the back of his car of a skull and crossbones that read “Danger: Poisonous Gas.” Moldrup says officers could smell the sulfur coming from the car and did not approach it. Seuell then immediately stopped communicating with authorities.
"This is a familiar method of harming oneself- hydrogen sulfide. You can purchase chemicals and it will emit a very poisonous gas and that's what this individual was apparently doing. There was a vehicle placard warning that he had this gas inside and he had actually called dispatch and told them to tell officers not to approach the vehicle. It's a very painful experience. It begins to shut down many systems in the body and it primarily affects the nervous system," Captain Moldrup told 13 News.
Because the gas was highly flammable and poisonous, authorities shut down both lanes of I-70 West between milepost 316 and 318. Members of the Riley County Fire Department, Manhattan Fire Department Hazardous Materials Unit, Riley County Police Department, Riley County EMS, KHP and KBI responded to the scene.
"It's definitely unusual but it' not unfamiliar to us. It's something that we at the Riley County Police Department haven't experienced but it's not something that was new to us. The hazardous materials team as well as officers have been trained and told about this method that has been used before in suicides so we knew what we were getting into," Moldrup said.
Officials say they tried to negotiate with Seuell for several hours with no success. A robot was sent to check on the man and found that he was unresponsive. A small group of officers in chemical suits approached his car and broke out a rear window to vent it and were able to get him out. He was decontaminated and rushed to Mercy Regional Hospital in Manhattan. From there, he was airlifted to Via Christi Saint Francis Hospital in Wichita. Officials at Via Christi Hospital confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that Jonathan Seuell had passed away from his injuries.
According to a press release from the Kansas Highway Patrol, an unknown amount of various types of chemicals were found in the man’s car. The interstate was reopened once the scene was clear and safe at 5:30 AM, after being shut down for seven hours.
On Wednesday, officials with the Kansas Highway Patrol confirmed that Seuell was a soldier in the Army Reserves, telling 13 News his unit is based out of Missouri.