The mother of a 22-month-old boy killed in a single-car crash last fall is suing a Cambria smoke shop for wrongful death, saying the “spice” it sold impaired the driver.
Stacey Brito’s attorney, Don Ernst, filed the suit Friday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against Paradise Smoke Shop and the driver of the car, Tanner Noah Mengore. It also names Rosario Aguilar and Andres Simmonds-Gibson, though it did not explain why they were named.
According to the CHP, on Oct. 25, Mengore, 22, had smoked spice — a mix of herbs and spices typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC. Then he drove an SUV that contained several passengers, including three siblings and their nephew. About 4 p.m., while traveling at a high rate of speed, the vehicle veered out of control on Highway 1 near Cayucos, hit an embankment and went airborne before rolling several times.
Three of the four passengers were thrown from the vehicle. Mason Simmonds-Brito and Simon Brito, 17, were killed.
Wendi Brito, 19, who was babysitting the toddler, and Michael Brito, 23, suffered major injuries.
Mengore, the only one wearing a seatbelt, suffered minor injuries.
Mengore has pleaded not guilty to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of a drug causing injury and child abuse.
Neither the owner nor manager of Paradise Smoke Shop could be reached Friday night. When contacted by the Tribune in October, manager Mona Atoush said her store has never sold spice.
“The folks, they never came here, and we don’t sell that stuff here,” she said. “Many stores used to sell it, so people have been coming here, since we’re a new smoke shop, to see if we have it.”
The CHP did not say where Mengore purchased the drug.
Complaints filed in civil court only represent one side and have not been adjudicated in court.
According to the suit, which seeks punitive damages, the shop owners did sell spice and “were fully aware of the dangers associated with the use of the drug.”
Spice is labeled with names such as “Brain Freeze” and “Hysteria,” the suit claims.
“The product is commonly marketed to young people who may be hesitant to purchase illicit street drugs,” the suit reads. “The spice packaging often contains language such as, ‘Not for Human Consumption.’ This warning is a sham, designed to shield sellers and manufacturers from liability. The warning is wholly insufficient.”
While names of spice products make it sound natural, the suit claims, it’s actually dangerous: “The chemicals sprayed on the inert plant material in the manufacture of spice are poisonous substances which can cause hallucinations, hysteria, paranoia . . . and even death.”
Mengore has no prior criminal history. At his arraignment last November, his attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, said Mengore knew the deceased as family and is saddened by the deaths.
“I don’t believe for one moment that he’s guilty of the crimes charged,” Funke-Bilu said.