Police say suicide, accidental death to blame in fume-filled building | News | Mountain View Online |


Police say suicide, accidental death to blame in fume-filled building

Milk Pail store director and teen son found dead in evacuated California Street unit Wednesday

Police said they believe suicide and an accidental death are to blame in the deaths of a man and his teenaged son Wednesday.

The two bodies found in an apartment complex in Mountain View on Wednesday have been identified as 53-year-old Lian "James" Liu and his 17-year-old son, William Liu by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office. Liu was the store director of the Milk Pail Market in Mountain View.

"While we are continuing to investigate this case, at this point in time the deaths of our two victims appear to be the result of a suicide along with one accidental death," said Mountain View police Monday via the department's blog. The coroner's office reported that the cause of death for Liu and his son William is still pending as of Monday morning, as toxicology reports are not yet back.

Liu was not only the store director but also the brother-in-law of Steve Rasmussen, owner of the Milk Pail Market. According to a Facebook post by Kai Rasmussen, Liu's niece, he was a "brilliant manager, buyer, and grocer who was greatly admired by our staff, customers, and vendors alike."

Police continue continue to investigate the source of the noxious smell that broke out at 2025 California St. Sept. 24 and triggered an evacuation. The bodies of both victims were located in one of the apartment units by fire crews.

Investigators later found that calcium sulfide and sulfuric acid were present in the the complex at 2025 California St., as well as the byproducts of both chemicals -- sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, according to Shino Tanaka, spokeswoman for the Mountain View Police Department.

Hydrogen sulfide in lower concentrations can cause nausea, eye irritation and headaches, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Higher concentrations can lead to unconsciousness, serious eye damage and death.

Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that causes irritation to the eyes and skin, and can lead to eye damage, lung damage and skin burns.

Police are not releasing any additional information on the investigation.

Police received reports of the noxious "rotten egg" smell in the apartment complex at 6:09 p.m. Wednesday night, and evacuated residents in the area until 8 a.m. the next morning.

During the evacuation and investigation, four responding officers were sickened by the fumes and reported feeling lightheaded. They were treated and released.

Tanaka confirmed that the noxious smell was not caused by a gas leak, and that no suicide note had been left at the apartment where the two bodies were located. Police had originally suspected a gas leak caused the noxious smell, and PG&E crews shut off gas lines in the area.

Another apartment building adjacent to the complex was also evacuated, and an estimated 30 or 40 evacuees were sheltered at the nearby community center on Rengstorff Avenue.

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4 people like this
Posted by chemicals
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

These chemicals were used in a "suicide wave" in Japan and the US: Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 26, 2014 at 8:17 pm

While I am certainly no expert about recreational drugs, I was under the impression that the "rotten egg" smell was often associated with meth production. A quick Internet search led me to this article:

Web Link

If my assumption is correct, nearby residents were probably evacuated because meth labs use flammable chemicals for the drug production and the police were worried about a possible explosion/fire.

The fact that the MVPD have released very little information indicates that this was not a simple accident nor utility issue. It is likely divulging too much information at this point might jeopardize their (criminal) investigation as they interview neighbors, etc. about the occupants' behavior, research vehicle movements, etc.

Again, this is a guess.

4 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm


I did poke around various articles about the "weapon of mass destruction" angle and this scenario seems less likely.

For starters, a WMD is more effective if it is very large/quick (like a suitcase nuke), or if it is very undetectable (like sarin nerve gas which is odorless). The noxious smell the apartment was emanating would not make an effective WMD as people would tend to back off.

Second, a WMD operation would most certainly mobilize the feds, and right now this appears to be a municipal police case.

Moreover, the justification of a homemade WMD is relatively marginal. Unlike drug production, there's little financial benefit from building something that essentially returns no revenue.

Again, I am no expert on the WMD topic, but the fact that the feds haven't overrun Mountain View is pretty good evidence that this is not a WMD factory.

3 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2014 at 3:44 am

Sparty is a registered user.

As posted on MVPD's facebook page (not by them) it sounds like detergent suicide chemicals. Although that is pretty elaborate for someone living in an apartment on that block IMO. Although...one of the detergent suicides in Japan was a 14 year old

3 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 27, 2014 at 8:02 am

Yes, it could be a detergent suicide although it would be one of a handful here in this country. Detergent suicides don't appear to be an upward trend here in California or elsewhere in the United States. It is worth noting that some chemicals could be used either in a detergent suicide or in drug manufacturing.

Let's face it: there are plenty of other ways to end your life around here, many of which are much more "easier" whether it be a firearm, hanging, prescription drug overdose, on the train tracks, or jumping off a bridge.

Detergent suicides are probably more common in Japan since the general populace there does not have access to handguns: firearm ownership by a Japanese citizen is illegal and importation is also forbidden.

Again, the extremely limited amount of information provided by the MVPD would seem to indicate that they are working on a criminal investigation. If this was a detergent suicide, there would like be nothing else noteworthy inside the apartment unit.

However, if it were indeed some sort of drug lab, there would be a lot of evidence that the police would need to examine, inventory, investigate, etc., all of which would require some time, and explain the extremely cagey communications by the MVPD.

10 people like this
Posted by Casey
a resident of North Bayshore
on Sep 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Should wait until the investigation is completed before further speculating. The article stated that the chemicals were found at the complex, not inside the apartment.

10 people like this
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Yes, far too much speculation in comments on the case so far. Wait for the full story.

Today's Daily Post has other details. Including from an apartment resident (manager?) Daryl Smithgall, quoting the Fire Chief as saying that a note found on the Lius' apartment door referred to using chemicals inside the apartment that might create a small. It sounds like the same note CBS et al. persisted in labeling in news broadcasts as a "suicide note," even long after MVPD spokeswoman Tanaka was reported here saying "We are investigating something that was left, but it was not a suicide note." 

4 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 27, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Hydrogen sulfide gas smells really bad, but it quickly overloads your sense of smell. Then you can't smell it anymore even though it is deadly in high concentrations. Very sad situation.

4 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2014 at 12:47 am

Sparty is a registered user.

Hydrogen Sulfide is what you get when you break those tiny stink bomb vials.

Its like rotten eggs x100. Really bad. You used to see them all over in SF Chinatown.

4 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Sep 28, 2014 at 9:45 am

Just a correction point, there is no "apartment manager" on site, this is not an apartment complex but a condominium building with an HOA board.

4 people like this
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 28, 2014 at 10:32 am

Thanks David.

The ambiguity was in the current (weekend, print) Daily Post, which describes Smithgall as another "apartment complex resident. . . who is also the president of the homeowners association."

8 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2014 at 1:27 pm

As a frequent customer of the Milk Pail, this makes the story even more sad as I probably had been served by him.

Condolences to the family and all Milk Pail employees.

3 people like this
Posted by Jetty
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

Hello Jay Park,

The number of detergent suicides in the US is certainly higher than just a handfull. In my register I have 21 in California alone, and my register is far from complete.
If anyone needs more accurate info, he or she should contact mr. J. Oreshan,
Deputy Chief with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention & Control. He has specialised in this subject and keeps a register of US victims

Web Link

With kind regards,
ing. Jetty Middelkoop MPS
Hazmat Officer
Fire Dept. Amsterdam Amstelland
The Netherlands

3 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2014 at 11:53 am

Sparty is a registered user.

updated: Suicide and accidental death.

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Baxman
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Baxman is a registered user.

From the police blog:
"While we are continuing to investigate this case, at this point in time the deaths of our two victims appear to be the result of a suicide along with one accidental death. One of the victims has been identified as 53 year-old Lian Liu, a male out of Mountain View, however we are not releasing any information about the other victim who is a juvenile. We ask that you please respect the privacy of the those involved in this extremely unfortunate incident and offer your continued support to those in our community."

I'm assuming one person was trying to resuscitate/save the other and died in the process. So very, terribly, sad.

10 people like this
Posted by Maher
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Maher is a registered user.

Well, I'm just sad about this story.
Even though I'm not a Milk Pail regular, I do know its excellent reputation for wonderful fresh products and lovely staff.
So I'm sad to hear about the suicide or accidental death of the manager and his son... story is unclear about which victim was suicide or accidental.
AND I REFUSE TO DIMINISH THESE LOST PEOPLE WITH SPECULATION..and I do wish other commentors here would do the same. Too much speculation here.

I agree with the comments of Baxman, Max Hauser and Casey. Some restraint is needed to be respectful of this situation.

3 people like this
Posted by mn_test347
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

mn_test347 is a registered user.

"While I am certainly no expert.."

So why concoct a story about it?

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