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Students feel the effects of pepper spray

Many Ohio State students who were present at the block party on East Woodruff Avenue Saturday night had their first experiences with pepper spray, a defensive spray agent derived from hot cayenne peppers. And as some of them told The Lantern, it was not pleasant.

According to the report from the Columbus Police Department, officers encountered a large crowd on East Woodruff Avenue and saw several house parties with more than 1,000 people blocking the street. Police responded to the situation and cleared out the area with the use of pepper spray.

Matthew Coleman, a 19-year-old majoring in biology, Brian Witt, a 21-year-old majoring in civil engineering, and Michael Shivak, 21, were arrested for assault on a police officer following the party, which was known as Woodfest ‘11. According to court documents, Coleman and Witt posted bonds Monday morning. As of 9 p.m. Monday, Shivak had not posted bail.

Judge Paul Herbert set the bail for the three suspects at $25,000 each.

Dr. Mary Kiacz, medical director of the Wilce Student Health Center, said contact with pepper spray has sustained effects, including extremely irritated eyes, causing tearing and pain. Pepper spray also “causes the skin to burn where it has contact,” Kiacz said.

John Bieterman, a fourth-year in accounting, said he was sitting on his friend’s porch at 41 Woodruff Ave. when a police officer walked up to the porch, ordered them to get into the house and started spraying the porch with pepper spray.

“I was the closest one, so I think he started with me and then made a back-and-forth motion with his hand and hit the rest of the porch,” he said. “I got it directly in both eyes, some in my mouth and a little bit on the rest of my face and my forearms.”

Bieterman said he started feeling the effects of the pepper spray almost instantly when his eyes forced themselves shut.

“Immediately, your eyes are watering, and it’s burning a lot, and then the thing that really hits you right off the bat is there’s an intense smell, so you start coughing,” he said. “Some of my friends actually vomited.”

Pepper spray can also cause a “sensation of not being able to breathe,” Kiacz said. It can feel like a “tight feeling in breathing,” she said. The feeling of difficult breathing can be sustained for about 30 minutes.

Frank Saraniti, a third-year in exercise science, said he was not directly sprayed but felt the effects of the pepper spray when the wind blew it into his face. He said coughing so much made him throw up a few times.

“It was pretty gross. Everyone was throwing up,” he said. “Once you get Maced, it’s like, impossible not to cough. You just can’t really hold it in, and everything in your stomach comes right up.”

Saraniti’s reaction to the pepper spray could have been much worse because he has asthma.

“If a person with asthma is in contact with pepper spray, it can be fatal,” Kiacz said. “It is possible that someone with asthma could go into respiratory arrest from pepper spray.”

Saraniti said inhaling the pepper spray felt similar to having an asthma attack.

“I sucked it in, and your lungs just tighten up. It was like breathing in hot sauce,” he said. “That whole night I coughed throughout the night, my chest was a little tight. I came home and took my inhaler a few times just to make sure. The next day I felt fine.”

While throwing up and taking his inhaler made him feel better, Saraniti said he realized it could have been much worse.

“My asthma isn’t horrible right now, so I didn’t think it was that bad, but I could see if you had real bad asthma and your lungs tighten up and you can’t breathe for a while, you’d probably be in some big trouble,” he said.

Bieterman also recognized that his situation could have been worsened if he had been drinking more that night.

“If I was sober, I probably would’ve reacted a little bit better,” he said. “The shock immediately of finding out what was going on with your face probably wouldn’t have lasted as long, but I’m lucky that I wasn’t really drunk.”

Kiacz said the effects of pepper spray are the same whether sober or not. However, she said if you were sober when hit, “you would likely know how to act more appropriately.”

Neither Saraniti nor Bieterman reported having many lasting effects from the pepper spray, although Bieterman said the feeling of his skin burning was the effect that lasted the longest.

“Through the night and through a good part of yesterday after I took my shower and stuff, you could still notice parts on my forearms and a little bit on my cheek and stuff that was still burning just to touch,” he said. “Overall it was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.”

Amanda Cahoon contributed to this story.


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