Teen's Death Again Spotlights Four Loko Danger

Texas girl, 14, killed in car wreck, as caffeinated booze comes under scrutiny.

November 18, 2010, 2:03 PM

Nov. 18, 2010— -- Texas authorities have arrested a convenience store clerk for selling the controversial alcoholic energy drink Four Loko to a group of teenagers involved in a car wreck that left a teenage girl dead.

The girl's death came the same week that the federal government called for an investigation of similar drinks that blend alcohol and caffeine, calling them "unsafe."

Satish Phuyal, 22, a clerk at the 6 Pack XPress in Arlington, was charged Wednesday night with selling alcoholic beverages to a minor.

Phuyal is the second person charged in relation to the death of Valeria Rodriguez, 14, who was killed early Sunday morning when the SUV her 14-year-old boyfriend was driving crashed into a guardrail, causing the car to roll over and Rodriguez to be thrown from the vehicle.

Phuyal has not yet obtained an attorney, authorities said.

The boyfriend, whose name has not been released by police, has been charged with intoxication manslaughter.

A third teenager in the car, a 16-year-old boy who also has not been identified, told investigators the group bought five cans of Four Loko, a malt liquor beverage sold in 23.5-ounce cans that contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as four beers and the caffeine equivalent of two to three cups of coffee.

"Any retailer that's selling alcohol to minors is too many," Capt. Capt. Robert Charlie Cloud of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission told ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV. "We're going to do what we can to ensure that that doesn't happen."

A conviction for selling alcohol to a minor in Texas comes with a possible jail term of up to one year and a $4,000 fine.

Four Loko and similar beverages that mix alcohol and caffeine in one can have come under scrutiny from state and federal authorities in recent weeks, following a string of deaths and injuries involving mostly young people.

On the heels of several states' banning the alcoholic energy drinks from store shelves, the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday sent letters to four manufactures, including Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, telling them that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is dangerous.

Four Loko 'Unsafe Food Additive'

The FDA called caffeine an "unsafe food additive" and warned the companies that further action, including seizing cans of the products, was possible. The government warned that consuming drinks such as Four Loko are "associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations.

"[It's] part of the process that FDA uses that leads to these products being removed from the market," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the agency's principal deputy commissioner.

Before the FDA sent its letter, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Tuesday warned the companies of federal action and the makers of Four Loko said they would remove caffeine from the drink.

"Let these rulings serve as a warning to anyone who tried to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children," he said. "Do it and we will shut you down."

Also before the release of the FDA's letter, Phusion Projects said it would voluntarily remove caffeine from Four Loko.

"We have repeatedly contended -- and still believe, as do many people throughout the country -- that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe," the company said in a statement. "If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced."

Four Loko has made headlines in recent months, following a string of deaths and mishaps.

Investigators in Washington State revealed last month that it was Four Loko and not an illegal drug, as was previously assumed, that was responsible for sickening about 50 college students and sending nine to a hospital.

Washington and several other states, including New York, Maryland and New Jersey, have since called for statewide bans of the product.

News of the ban and the proposed recipe change have caused a surge in sales of Four Loko in many states.

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