A Topsham man who told police he is a chemist was arrested Monday night on an assortment of criminal charges after he allegedly endangered other motorists while “huffing” canisters of computer keyboard cleaner.

Topsham police Sgt. Robert Ramsay said John Yates, 44, was arrested after a low-speed pursuit of about a mile along Interstate 295 southbound in Topsham.

When Officer Randy Cook approached Yates’ sport utility vehicle, which he had crashed into a guardrail, Yates allegedly pulled a canister of Dust Off keyboard cleaner from under his seat and started inhaling it in front of the officer. The canister, which contains compressed gas, is used to remove keyboard dust.

At that point, Cook removed the keys from the ignition and arrested Yates. He was charged with operating under the influence of drugs, driving to endanger, failure to stop for a police officer and civil possession of inhalants, according to Ramsay. He was transported to the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, where he is being held on $1,000 cash bail.

Ramsay said the incident began just after 8 p.m. Monday on Lewiston Road – also known as Route 196 in Topsham. Witnesses said Yates parked his Ford Escape on the front lawn of Topsham Mobile Home Sales. When the witnesses approached Yates and attempted to detain him he drove to a nearby gas station parking lot.

Topsham police were notified and spotted Yates’ SUV heading south on Interstate 295. Ramsay said Yates pulled over into the breakdown lane, but when a police cruiser approached he pulled out suddenly, almost crashing into a tractor-trailer truck.


Officer Cook pursued Yates – speeds never reached more than 45 mph – until the SUV hit a guardrail and went into a ditch. Cook approached the stopped vehicle with his weapon drawn. When he ordered Yates to get out of the SUV, he refused.

About that time, Yates grabbed a canister of Dust Off and began huffing in front of the officer, police said. He had to be forced to the ground and handcuffed.

Ramsay said Yates had a five-pack of Dust Off in his vehicle.

Topsham police issued Yates a summons two years ago for illegal use of inhalants.

Teenage deaths from inhaling computer cleaning spray to get high were widely reported in 2005, but inhalant abuse remains a problem regardless of age. In 2011, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that inhalant abuse had become a multi-generational problem.

A study by SAMHSA, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that “huffing” – or intentionally inhaling a chemical vapor to get high – was on the rise among people over the age of 18. The study, which was based on 2008 data, found that 54 percent of treatment admissions related to inhalant abuse involved adults.

Inhalants can produce mind-altering effects. Chronic use of inhalants can cause irreversible damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs, as well as death.

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