Oregon Man Charged After Reportedly Trying To Hold Breath In Tunnel and Causing Three-Car Accident

Oregon State Police
Oregon State Police
This is a truly bizarre story. Like many families, our kids often play the game of holding their breath in tunnels. For some it is fun and for others it is superstitious. For Daniel J. Calhoun, 19, it was potentially fatal. Police say that Calhoun told them that he passed out while trying to hold his breath for the length of a tunnel northwest of Portland. He caused a three-car accident.

Calhoun was driving a 1990 Toyota Camry through the Highway 26 tunnel near Manning when his car drifted into the opposing lane and struck a Ford Explorer. Both vehicles hit the tunnel wall and then were struck by a pickup truck. Four people, including Calhoun, were taken to the hospital.

The tunnel in question is 772 feet long and the posted speed is 55 mph. That would mean that you would have to hold your breath for 10 seconds, which does not appear enough to cause someone to pass out or lose control. The average person can hold their breath for roughly two minutes. People who train can extend that time like David Blaine who holds a record of 17 minutes and 4 seconds after breathing in pure oxygen. The record without the use of pure oxygen is 8 minutes and 58 seconds.

If you look at the picture above, the Camry actually appears relatively close to the opening or end (if the car spanned around) of the tunnel.

The fear of tunnels is a common phobia and can cause panic attacks, including breathing problems in some people. Over 50 million Americans are estimated to be struggling with such anxiety disorders. Given the short distance of the tunnel in this case, there is an obvious possibility of such a disorder but there is no indication that that is the reason for Calhoun reportedly holding his breath.

tunnel27n-3-webWhat is notable is that police have thrown the book at Calhoun, who is now charged with reckless driving, three counts of reckless endangerment and fourth-degree assault. The fourth degree assault charge is particularly interesting. In Oregon, that charge can be based on the belief that a person “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly caused physical injury to another, or
as a result of criminal negligence, caused physical injury to another with a deadly or dangerous weapon.” (Or. Rev. Stat. §163.160.). That might prompt a defense attorney to seriously pursue the question of a sudden panic attack or anxiety disorder. If there was no prior knowledge of the condition, it could be a defense or at least a mitigating circumstance.

If there is a torts lawsuit, the line can be tricky. I teach a case, Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co., 173 N.W.2d 619 (Wis. 1970), where the defendant was driving when she believed God took control of the car and when she saw a truck coming, “stepped on the gas to become airborne because she knew she could fly because Batman does it.” (This is by the way a clear indication of insanity since everyone knows Batman cannot fly). She was still found guilty of negligence because she had knowledge or forewarning of her mental delusions or disability. Courts will allow an insanity defense in such cases when they do not have notice or forewarning and the condition denies the person’s ability to exercise reasonable care or to act in an “ordinarily prudent manner.” In addition, the person must not have notice or forewarning that he may suddenly subject to such a type of insanity. Of course, if he were to prevail on such a claim, it would likely be difficult to retain his license without a demonstration of medication or treatment to the satisfaction of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Of course, none of this may be relevant if Calhoun was just playing the tunnel game and has a decidedly short capacity for holding his breath. Then there is the possibility that the claim of holding one’s breath was a cover for some other cause. However, I assume that Calhoun was tested for any drugs or alcohol. The case seems a likely candidate for a plea so we may never have an adjudication of that issue.

15 thoughts on “Oregon Man Charged After Reportedly Trying To Hold Breath In Tunnel and Causing Three-Car Accident

  1. Let’s see how long he can hold his breath with a Plastic bag tied around his head!…………… And, his hands tied behind his back….

  2. In my opinion, and the only facts I have are what I read here, the driver made up this claim of holding his breath hoping it would somehow excuse the accident but instead it allowed the OSP an opportunity to try to pursue the criminal negligence charge and the resulting others as well.

    If that was the case the driver would have been better off to say he just misjudged the center line and the collision happened. There would have been no criminal negligence, nor recklessness. He certainly would have been guilty of the traffic infraction of over the center line and would have been responsible for the collision but not criminally culpable.

  3. I never heard of the hold your breath game. Sign of the cross passing a church. Lift your feet driving pass a cemetery. Stop and eat @ every White Castle. Those I’ve heard of.

  4. We used to try and drink at every bar between the Tempe city line and the Apache Junction city line, but never tried holding my breath to go through a tunnel.
    I am with you on the Batman defense, Batman cannot fly, however, had she said Superman, she had a shot.

  5. The fear of tunnels is a common phobia and can cause panic attacks, including breathing problems in some people. Over 50 million Americans are estimated to be struggling with such anxiety disorders.” – JT

    Fear is the number one product of propaganda, but there are other products that are “doing well” too.

  6. I agree Mr. Keebler what we have here is a distinct aroma of deceased ichthyoids.

    Paul
    Sorry but I feel I would be remiss if I fail to point out that Superman is not after all a man but is an Extra-terrestrial from the planet Krypton.
    As we can likely agree that this is a well known fact; I don’t see why she would think SHE could fly just because Superman (the ET) can.

    No, I believe if we are going to have any hope of helping this young lady avoid the consequences of her crime it will require that we find a human superhero who; through some scientific anomaly; is able to fly without the help of a machine.
    No problem.

    I also note that her conviction, despite her obvious lunacy points out that if you know your crazy before you go out and act crazy; being crazy is no defense.

    How can a person who suffers from delusions be expected to make a rational decision as to their ability to drive………………… or fly?

  7. angryman – if God suddenly comes to you and says your car can fly because Superman can fly, are you going to worry about whether he is an alien or not? ;)

  8. “Lift your feet driving pass a cemetery.”

    Lift your feet going over railroad tracks – very bad luck if you do not follow that simple rule.

    This sounds like 10 and out. Some 6th graders learn to take 10 deep breaths and then hold your breath, leading to dizzyness and occasionally passing out.

    The simplest explanation is frequently the best – probably just looking for something in the center console or up all night and dozed off.

  9. Never heard of the ‘hold breath in a tunnel’ thing. We get some loonies here sometimes…. Look at that psycho first post! If the Long Beach address is an invitation to visit, you can count me out! This tunnel guy needs a lot more than a slap on the wrist, but you can’t turn a very stupid but blamable accident into a murder just because the results are so bad. Plenty of negligence to sentence on but its still not Clockwork Orange bloodymindedness.

  10. If God says “Batman” can fly; then Batman can, in fact, fly. Just because none have yet witnessed Batman flying does not change the fact. Also, just because evolution may not be working for you, doesn’t mean it is not working for the rest of us.

  11. Keith – I considered that Batman might suddenly be able to fly, but then discarded it, because historically he never has. Superman can.

  12. 2 minutes? Really? Can you do that? Of course you can’t.

    That said the air quality in the tunnel is unhealthy. Holding your breath while passing through this section is not only prudent, but it is reasonable, Survey the drivers. It is quite commonplace here.

  13. I think breath game in the tunnel was an excuse created by the young man to avoid harsher sentences. It could be one of those common reasons, driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or even texting while driving. But even if the breath game excuse is true, it does not take away the blame for him.

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