Cabbie Describes Dwyer's Last Night
The cab driver who went to pick up Joseph Dwyer on the day of his death said that she had begged him to stop abusing inhalants.
In the final months of his life, Dwyer was going through 12 to 14 -- sometimes as many as 18 -- cans a day of Dust-Off, said Dianne Hayes. Dust-Off is compressed gas used to clean computers and other equipment.
Dwyer died June 28 of what Pinehurst police believe was an accidental overdose of inhalant in aerosol cans and possibly prescription medication. He was a former U.S. Army medic who was made famous by a 2003 picture showing him carrying a wounded Iraqi boy. The photo ran on the front pages of newspapers and magazines worldwide.
According to his family, Dwyer struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq. His mother told reporters that he abused inhalants to help him sleep.
Hayes is a driver for the cab company Southern Pines Transportation. She said she picked Dwyer up every day and drove him to various local stores to buy Dust-Off. He called her for a ride to the hospital the day of his death.
The call came in about 7 p.m., she remembers. She had a customer with her and had to drop him off before heading to Dwyer's home on Longleaf Drive. When she knocked on the door, he called out and said that he was in pain. When she tried the door, it was locked. He asked her to call 911.
"He said, 'Call the police! Call 911!'" Hayes said. "'I'm in pain. I'm dying. I feel like I'm having a heart attack.'"
'They Were Everywhere'
Upon arrival, police had to kick the door in. Hayes watched as the officers found Dwyer lying on the floor on his back, breathing heavily, about 10 feet from the door. There were more than 100 empty cans of Dust-Off around the house, Hayes said.
"They were all around," she said. "They were everywhere."
After paramedics struggled to get him on a gurney, Hayes noticed that Dwyer's skin was gray. She was relieved when they took off with him in the ambulance.
"When I left there, I thought he was going to be OK," she said.
She later read in The Pilot that he had died at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. They had seen each other every day for months, she said, and had become friends. He had obviously been living alone and didn't seem to have much other human contact, she said.
"I got very close to him," she said. "He was a nice guy. He really was. If he went in the store to buy a drink, he would buy me one too."
She said she knew he had been a soldier but had no idea he was famous.
"I just now found out that he was the hero," she said. "He didn't say anything about anything like that."
Dwyer told her he needed the Dust-Off cans because he was cleaning motorcycles. She said she eventually figured out that he was inhaling them.
"I was very, very concerned about this guy," she said.
No Laws Against It
The product is usually used to clean dust out of the inside of computers. It's not compressed air, as many people think. The chemical contained in the can is called difluoroethane.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalant abuse can disrupt heart rhythms and cause death from cardiac arrest, or lower oxygen levels enough to cause suffocation. There are no laws regarding the purchase of Dust-Off cans, and it is only one of any number of household items that can be abused as an inhalant.
According to Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter, there are no laws against possessing or even abusing inhalants.
"All that stuff you can buy in the grocery store," he said.
Stores don't keep track of how much of potentially toxic products they sell to a certain person, he said.
"These are just normal household items," he said. "But a lot of people have died from it."
Hayes said that if anyone at the various stores she took him to questioned him about purchasing so many cans of Dust-Off, she didn't know about it.
"He probably told them the same thing he told me," she said. "I caught on to it."
About a week before his death, she said she confronted him.
"If he hadn't done that air, he'd have been fine," she said. "I tried to get him to quit. I said, 'Please don't do that. You're killing yourself.' He said, 'I can't.'"
Contact Matthew Moriarty by e-mail at email@example.com.
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