When 16 year-old Chase Burnett died after smoking a synthetic marijuana packaged as “Mojo Diamond” he started a posthumous avalanche of a campaign by his parents, law enforcement and elected officials to eliminate the sale, distribution and use of synthetic marijuana. For Chase’s parents, David and Yvette Burnett, it is a personal crusade they’ve taken to the halls of government, the offices of drug enforcement officials, police and the news media. In fact, they were instrumental in ensuring the passage of “Chase’s Law, ”an all-encompassing legislation outlawing all forms of synthetic marijuana in the state of Georgia.
David says its been their mission to bring anyone who had “a finger in Chase’s death to justice and to make sure that no family has to suffer the heartbreak they themselves have suffered.”
Burnett has often said he’s going to hold accountable “the drug dealers who import deadly chemicals and spray them on herbs, the distributors who place them in convenience stores, the managers and owners of the stores who sell these drugs to minors, and the national chains and franchisors who until recently allowed these drugs to be sold in their franchises.”
Just days shy of the two-year anniversary of Chase’s death, the Burnetts filed a suit in Fayette County Superior Court against BP Products North America, Inc. and Geo H. Green Oil, Inc., charging that they were complicit in Chase’s death by allowing the ongoing sale of Mojo Diamond at their franchise stores.
David Burnett found his son’s body, floating in the family’s hot tub on March 4, 2012. Along side the tub was a package of the synthetic marijuana labeled “Mojo Diamond Extreme 100x potpourri.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab determined the product contained AM0-220, a synthetic
noid that “can cause severe injury, altered mental and emotional states, illness and death.”
The Georgia State Medical Examiner determined that Chase’s death was a direct result of using the Mojo Diamond product - the first death in the state that could be directly related to the use of synthetic marijuana.
According to the Burnetts suit, BP Products North America, Inc, and Green Oil should have known that the product was not only illegal but injurious and could lead to death for the user.
A lawsuit filed in August already named the owner of Gingko Food Mart, Vince Om, purchased the Mojo Diamond Extreme and his brother, Yong Om, who allegedly sold it from a BP station in Peachtree City. That's where the lawsuit claims Chase bought it.
The lawsuit filed said the defendants knew, or should have known, that minors would assume that products, being sold legally, were safe and that known and intended uses included smoking or otherwise inhaling smoke from burning the product. The suit claims that had it not been for the negligence and willful and wanton misconduct of the defendants, Chase Burnett would be alive today.
Additionally, in what may be a first-of-its-kind attempt to bring the manufacturers of a drug to justice, the Burnetts filed a wrongful death suit against the company and person they believe distributed the drug that killed their son- Peyton Palaiok, Omerta Labs, LLC, WG Distribution, LLC, and Lunar Labs, LLC. Palaiok, 25, is believed to be the man connected to the distribution of the drug commonly referred to as “K2” or “Spice” to the Peachtree City convenience store where it was purchased.
“You can be liable in a civil suit for selling an inherently dangerous product and for failing to warn consumers of the risks of using your product. The product is clearly made and sold with only one intended use,” said the family’s Atlanta-based attorney Kristofer R. Schleicher of Joyce Thrasher Kaiser & Liss, LLC.
Last year, Louisiana authorities handed down an indictment against Harold Bourgeois Jr., charging him with possession with intent to distribute a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance, the exact brand of drug the Burnetts found near the hot tub. According to Schleicher, Chase Burnett’s name is specifically listed in the indictment. Bourgeois allegedly had a website where he took orders and shipped across the country. Schieicher said law enforcement is still sifting through the common connections and it’s possible more indictments will follow.
The suit filed on Friday, said that prior to the sale of the synthetic marijuana product to Chase Burnett, Om’s employees were arrested for conducting an illegal gambling operation out of the Green Oil Peachtree City BP. Om was subsequently charged with racketeering and other offenses.
“Green Oil took no action against Om as a result of the arrests and subsequent charges and allowed him to continue operating the store without any investigation of the incident.”
Additionally, prior to the sale of the marijuana to Chase, Om was cited for violations of ordinances concerning the sale of alcohol at the Green Oil Peachtree City BP.
According to the suit in the months leading up to Chase’s death “Om sold large quantities of Mojo Diamond and other forms of synthetic marijuana at the BP to a number of students from McIntosh High School and to other minors..”
Also, the suit claims that Green Oil and BP regularly employed mystery shoppers to make visits to stores and knew that synthetic marijuana was sold there.
“The sale of synthetic drugs had been an important topic of considerable discussion and concern in the convenience store industry and retail fuel business for at least two years prior to the death of Chase.”
The Georgia legislature outlawed the sale of synthetic marijuana in 2010 and the information was made public.
In fact, newsletters from the National Association of Convenience Stores in March 2011 noted that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals used to make so-called ‘fake pot’ products.” The move made possessing and selling these chemicals or the products that contain them illegal. Memos on June 17, 2011, January 24, 2012, and February 6, 2012 all noted the ongoing concern and action being taken against synthetic marijuana and its sale.
“Green Oil took no action to eradicate the synthetic products from their stores.”
Georgia amended its controlled substances law in 2011 and “Green Oil again took no action..”
“Upon learning that Chase Burnett’s death was caused by a synthetic marijuana product purchased at one of its stores, Green Oil for the first time set out to determine how many of its stores were selling these products. Green Oil confirmed that the product was being sold in at least six stores, including three in Fayette County.
“Green Oil did not ban the sale of synthetic marijuana products from its stores until required to do so by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement entities after th passage of “Chase’s Law” in 2012, which expanded the number of compounds specifically identified as controlled substances.”
Neither, they noted, did BP, who didn’t ban the product until three months after Chase’s death.
Schleicher noted that they were given about 48 hours to get rid of any of the substance they had on the premises or risk prosecution.
“Kids think they’re safe, that the product is safe. These are not the kind of kids,” said Schleicher, “who are going down to the south side of Atlanta looking for drugs.”
In the suit, the Burnetts note that “the actions of the defendants..involved in possessing, distributing, and/or selling dangerous and illegal products to minors authorizes the imposition of imposition of punitive damages pursuant to Georgia law that in such action shows willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences.”
Though no specific amount of punitive damages was specified, in addition to the court costs, attorney’s fees and burial expenses, the Burnetts’ suit wants punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to punish defendants and deter defendants from such wrongful conduct in the future.”