An Apple Valley man found slumped over a neighbor's air conditioner is accused of stealing Freon from that unit and several others in the neighborhood to get high -- a habit that landed him in the hospital more than once.

Brentyn E. Krueger, 36, faces a Dakota County District Court charge of felony theft of the refrigerant gas best known by its brand name, Freon, related to a series of reports last fall.

In all, Krueger is accused of stealing nearly $1,800 worth of Freon, according to the criminal complaint in the case, a total that covers the amount lost and the cost of replacement.

Dakota County prosecutors say it's the first case of its kind in their county. While it's not against the law to inhale Freon, authorities said, it's been stolen around the country, usually by teens who open valves and gather the toxic gas in plastic bags from which they inhale.

"The guy's not a bad guy," said Krueger's neighbor, John Uittenbogaard III, whose Freon was stolen.

"I think he's had some problems; he's been trying to work on them again," the neighbor said. "It was kind of baffling to me when we figured this all out."

Homeowners near W. 129th Street and Floral Avenue called police just after 1 a.m. on a night in November. They had spotted their neighbor slumped over their outdoor air-conditioning unit, his torso lodged between the unit and the house. His head was facing down behind the unit.

Police arrived just as Krueger was rousing and becoming lucid. He admitted that he had been inhaling the Freon from inside the air conditioner, according to the complaint.

The next night, officers found Krueger at another neighbor's residence, where he had again allegedly inhaled Freon from that air conditioning system.

"He then became confused and walked into his neighbor's house when he thought police were coming," the complaint says.

Soon, police found that Krueger had been "huffing" Freon outside other neighbors' homes, court papers say. He's accused of doing it at least five times, and ambulances carried him away from lawns at least twice, court papers say.

Freon is often used as a refrigerant and propellant in aerosol products. The gases are toxic when inhaled in high concentrations and may cause eye, nose and throat irritation at lower levels, according to poison-control experts.

Inhaling, or "huffing," the gas can lead to short- and long-term brain damage, including memory problems, physicians say. As it blocks oxygen to the brain, the refrigerant gas causes a euphoric "high" that makes a user feel intensely drunk.

In October 2008, the body of 21-year-old Matthew Hoffman of Mankato was found near an apartment building in that city. An autopsy confirmed that he died from huffing Freon. Earlier that year, he'd been charged with stealing Freon from an air conditioner on the rooftop of a church.

In a March case, four teens in Apex, N.C., used plastic bags to siphon the gas from an air conditioner, then huffed it. Two went to the hospital.

Each year, 100 to 125 people in the United State die from inhaling abused chemicals and gases, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said, citing research by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Huffing of chemicals and gases is typically seen in adolescents, with most users 14 and 15 years old. Usage starts to drop by age 17 or so, Backstrom said.

In the Apple Valley case, the 36-year-old man brought tools and loosened the valves on the air conditioners to get the Freon, Backstrom said.

"Obviously, it's extremely dangerous to do," he said.

Krueger, who has previous convictions for drunken driving and illicit prescription drugs, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017