AKRON, OH — A 23-year-old Akron man choked to death early yesterday morning after he tried to swallow a live 5-inch fish on a dare.

The fish lodged in Michael Gentner's throat, police said. He apparently died while his frantic friends were being coached by a 911 operator, who was told only that Gentner had eaten some fish.

Paramedics found him not breathing and the tail of the still-living fish sticking out of his mouth.

When paramedics responding to the call in the 1400 block of Edgemoor Avenue found Gentner, he wasn't breathing and the tail of the still-living fish was sticking out of his mouth, according to Akron Fire Department officials.

Gentner, of the 2400 block of Chatham Road, was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m. yesterday.

According to Akron police, Gentner was with three friends at the Edgemoor Avenue house when one of them dared him to try to swallow the fish.

Swallowing small fish is a fairly common party stunt, said Deputy Police Chief Michael Matulavich. It was something Gentner had apparently done before, he said, though probably not with a 5-inch fish.

"It's a stunt," Matulavich said. "People swallow live fish, but not one this large. That may have been the lure of the dare."

Gentner's mother, Karen Koplin, said she couldn't discuss the incident. A man answering the phone yesterday at the Edgemoor house was in tears and also said he couldn't talk about it.

"People swallow live fish, but not one this large. That may have been the lure of the dare."

Matulavich said members of the emergency medical team responding to the 911 call initially thought they were dealing with a routine food-choking incident.

The 911 operator coached the friends on how to help Gentner, but they were panicked, Matulavich said. They may have lodged the fish more firmly in Gentner's throat in their efforts to pull it out, he said.

Paramedics eventually extricated the fish, which later died. Police do not know what kind of fish it was. Matulavich said it came from an aquarium in the Edgemoor house.

Police don't yet know whether the friends or Gentner had been drinking.

Those who dared Gentner to try the stunt aren't likely to be charged, Matulavich said. "I don't know what you'd charge them on. If I tell you to jump off a bridge, do you do it?

"This kid was 23 years old," Matulavich said. "I don't know what would prompt somebody to do something like that."