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Oregon driver who held his breath in tunnel faces criminal charges

Highway and Road Disasters

A 19-year-old faces criminal charges in Oregon after crashing his car, injuring himself and three others, because he passed out behind the wheel while trying to hold his breath through a nearly 800-foot-long tunnel.

The passenger in Daniel Calhoon's Toyota Camry suffered the most serious injuries as the car drifted across the center dividing line and into a Ford Explorer on Sunday afternoon. The passenger, 19-year-old Bradley Meyring, improved from serious to fair condition Tuesday at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Calhoon was cited for reckless driving, three counts of recklessly endangering another person and fourth-degree assault. He has been asked to appear in court in late June should prosecutors move forward with the case.

Calhoon, of Snohomish, Wash., told investigators that as part of a game he began holding his breath as he entered the tunnel, according to Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings.

"In this case, I think he lost and unfortunately other people were impacted," Hastings said Tuesday. "It's obviously never recommended that drivers do anything that's distracting."

Some people hold their breath when passing through tunnels as part of a game or superstition, but the reasoning and origin appear to be in dispute. Hastings said the game is usually played as a competition between passengers these days, with the driver typically sitting out.

The Oregonians inside the SUV struck by Calhoon's car were taken to a hospital, where they were treated and released. The driver, Thomas Hatch Jr., 67, said the crash could have been worse had he not swerved to avoid a head-on impact with Calhoon's car.

Hatch said he and his wife suffered cuts and bruises and were sore.

"The trooper was pretty incredulous about what caused the crash, but then it turned out that was really what happened," Hatch said Tuesday. "Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath when you’re going [through a] tunnel."

The Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel on Highway 26 on the edge of Portland runs the length of a little more than two football fields. At the speed limit, a car would be in the tunnel for about 10 seconds.

"That's the part that amazed me," Hatch said, referring to Calhoon's apparently losing consciousness so quickly. "I used to be a diver. I was sitting in my chair afterwards and wondering how long can I hold my breath for now … at least a minute without passing out."

Calhoon couldn't be reached for comment.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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