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Teen Causes 3-Car Crash While Holding Breath Through Tunnel

After its driver fainted Sunday, this Toyota collided with two other vehicles and the walls of a tunnel in Oregon.
Oregon State Police
After its driver fainted Sunday, this Toyota collided with two other vehicles and the walls of a tunnel in Oregon.

When driving, don't text, don't dial — and don't hold your breath until you're blue in the face.

A Washington state teenager broke that last rule Sunday night. While driving through a tunnel near Manning, Ore., 19-year-old Daniel J. Calhoon fainted from holding his breath.

His Toyota Camry crossed the center line and rammed into an oncoming Ford Explorer. Both vehicles hit interior tunnel walls, according to Oregon State Police, before a pickup truck collided with the Camry.

Four people were injured, including one seriously.

Calhoon told investigators he'd held his breath intentionally, apparently participating in a superstitious game.

"Upon entering a tunnel, passengers hold their breath," the lifestyle magazine Complex explained last year. (Emphasis added.) "Parents love this game because if you pass out for a while after holding your breath too long, everybody wins. Unless you're the driver, then everybody loses."

A spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it doesn't have any statistics to indicate how often drivers pass out after choosing to deprive themselves of air. In 2011, a man named Geof Huth posted a video to Vimeo of himself attempting to hold his breath while driving the length of a tunnel in Maryland, audibly gasping as he comes out of it.

The Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel, where Calhoon crashed, is 772 feet long. That means a car traveling at the posted speed limit of 55 mph would pass through it in about 10 seconds, according to The Associated Press.

"I'm sure the person that did this didn't know that they were gonna pass out," Sarah Winslow, a local physician, told KATU in Portland, Ore. "They probably thought, 'Oh, I'll just start breathing again.' It's sad that they had so much effect from playing a game."

The Oregon State Police tweeted in response to the accident, "Don't play games on our roads."

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Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.
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