EAGLE POINT, Ore. -- Last weekend, 14-year-old Ashley Long told her parents she was going to a slumber party.

But instead of watching videos and eating popcorn two blocks away, she and a bunch of friends drove to a condo in Medford, where police say a sister of one was throwing a party with booze and marijuana.

After drinking on the drive and downing more drinks in the condo, it came time for Ashley's turn on a tank of helium that everyone else was inhaling to make the voice sound funny.

"My daughter didn't want to do it," said Ashley's stepfather, Justin Earp, who talked to the friends to learn what happened. "It was peer pressure. They put a mask up to her face. They said it would be OK. 'It'll just make you laugh and talk funny.' "

Ashley passed out and died later at a hospital, the result of an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by inhaling helium from a pressurized tank.

"It blew her lungs out," Earp said. "It exploded them. . . . Then it went up into her brain and blew it up."

The death exposes the rare but real dangers of inhaling helium, especially from a pressurized tank. The gas is commonly seen in suicide kits with hoods sold mail order that can be attached to a helium tank by those who want to kill themselves.

Death from inhaling helium is so rare that the American Association Poison Control Centers lumps it in with other gases, such as methane and propane. Only three deaths from simple asphyxiants were recorded in 2010, said spokeswoman Loreeta Canton.

Dr. Mark Morocco of the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles said what happens is similar to when a scuba diver surfaces too quickly. A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through a tear in a blood vessel. If it is a vein, the bubble will stay in the lungs. In an artery, it can block the flow of oxygen-laden blood to the brain, causing a stroke. If there is a hole in the heart, the bubble can go from a vein to an artery and then to the brain.

"We tell folks every day that the combination of alcohol and anything else in the party world puts you at a much higher risk factor," Morocco said.

Katherine McAloon, 27, who lived in the condo, was arrested on charges of providing alcohol and marijuana to minors.

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