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Police Probing Sudden Illness of 4 Bar Patrons

Investigation: Spiking of drinks with drug is suspected after three lose consciousness. Two remain hospitalized.

November 04, 1996|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Police are investigating whether four people who became ill in a bar--two of them critically--had downed drinks spiked with a designer street drug, Lt. Dan Johnson said Sunday.

Three people became unconscious and another complained of dizziness and an upset stomach after having drinks Saturday night at the Rhino Room, police said. Three of the victims knew each other.

"None of our victims admits to using any drugs, and none knows whether their drinks were spiked," said Johnson, who did not know what the bar patrons were drinking.

"At some point, all their drinks were left unattended."

An anonymous tipster told police that someone in the bar had been passing out a popular amphetamine known as Ecstasy, but witnesses did not confirm the report, Johnson said.

An employee of the bar said late Sunday that the owner was not available for comment on the incident.

At Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, urine tests on two of the victims--both of whom had extreme trouble breathing--showed the presence of gamma hydroxybutyric acid, an illegal drug known as Scoop, Dr. Kim Linares said.

The liquid drug, which is odorless and tasteless, is known for purported aphrodisiac and hallucinogenic properties, according to Dr. Lee Cantrell of the Los Angeles Regional Drug and Poison Information Center. Scoop has been linked to more than 30 incidents of illness in several states and can cause seizures and comas.

Because people sometimes pass out after taking Scoop, it is sometimes likened to Rohypnol, the so-called date rape drug, Cantrell said.

Two of Saturday's victims--Tracy Kirk, 24, of Covina, and Mark Dobbins, 28, of Huntington Beach--were treated at hospitals and released. Covina resident Gabriela Santucci, 22, and Huntington Beach resident Monika Taylor, 26, were in stable condition at Orange Coast Memorial.

Police said they are not prepared to say that the drinks were spiked with Scoop or any other drug pending blood toxicology reports on the four victims, which are expected this week.

The three women arrived at the bar together at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, police said. At some point, each got up to use the restroom or walk around before finishing her drink, Johnson said. The three women and Dobbins began passing out or becoming ill about 11 p.m.

Santucci and Taylor, who were the most seriously ill, were put on ventilators because they had trouble breathing, Linares said. Both had their stomachs pumped.

On Sunday, both women were breathing on their own. Both are expected to fully recover, Linares said.

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