An Oswego County mother is taking a local head shop to court following her son's death after smoking synthetic marijuana he allegedly bought from the store.
Teresa Woolson, whose 19-year-old son, Victor, drowned in Lake Ontario after smoking a form of synthetic marijuana, wants the shop's owner, the drug manufacturer and the distributor held accountable.
In August 2012, Victor Woolson drowned in the lake soon after smoking "K-2 Avalanche," a form of synthetic marijuana he apparently bought from Xtreme Underground.
Since then, Teresa Woolson has experienced the strife every grieving parent goes through.
"Well, it's completely different, that's for sure," Woolson said. "Victor has two older sisters who struggle very much with grief. Losing a part of your family is pretty hard."
She said her son was able to purchase the drugs, marketed as incense, even though it was banned under federal law. A week later, Xtreme Underground was the subject of an Oswego Police drug raid, along with four other Oswego smoke shops.
"On the day of his incident, a friend told him that they do still sell them in the store, even though the bans were in place by the health department, the state and the federal government," Woolson said. "They were in the store on the shelves. And so they, him and his friend, did go and buy them, smoked it, went in the lake and had a fatal reaction right away, and he died."
Woolson is going after the store's owner, Brian Colombo, and the unnamed manufacturer and distributor of the drug for $5 million. The suit alleges that the store sold an illegal dangerous product, that the drugs were mislabeled, didn't contain warnings and failed to mention what company makes them.
She said some community members have been supportive of her lawsuit, while other feel her son knew what he was doing when he took the drugs.
"There's always a few skeptics, there are negative people around things," Woolson said. "But for the most part, most people have been very positive. I've met a lot of people and a lot of people are very shocked at even knowing these products could be on the shelves."
Woolson said if she wins her case, which is still in the investigative stage, the money will help fund the VOW foundation, which she established in Victor's honor to help other young adults suffering from addiction to synthetic marijuana and other drugs.
Columbo is also facing criminal charges for selling mislabeled drugs. He pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges, and is scheduled to reappear in court in April.
Woolson is working with State Assemblyman William Barclay to get new legislation passed that gives the state more power to fight synthetic drugs.
"It changes the definition of a synthetic and so it'll help keep the products off the shelves of the stores," Woolson said. "And also help in the mislabeling laws, and the things that are getting skirted now that are hurting and killing people."
The proposed legislation also allows the commissioner of health to add new chemical compounds to the banned substances list more quickly, and increases penalties for selling synthetic marijuana.
It is currently being worked on in the Senate and Assembly health committees.