COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It surfaced more than five years ago, marketed as a safe and legal way to get high. It's known as synthetic marijuana, K-2 or Spice - a designer drug with a hundred different chemical variations.
For law enforcement and prosecutors charged with keeping this designer drug off the streets and out of stores, the challenge is to constantly ban the chemicals in the drug so they can prosecute those who sell it.
One challenge for those tasked at getting this drug off the street is how to test for Spice, and also how to prove in a court of law that the chemicals in the drug could create the same level of impairment as alcohol or other known illegal drugs.
One family experienced first-hand the impact a driver under the influence of Spice can have in the blink of an eye.
"It was completely demolished," Scott Turbeville said. "It looked similar to a road side bombing."
Scott describes a crash scene that his brother, Tripp, was a victim of after he was hit by a driver under the influence of Spice.
"I just kept asking the woman on the phone, 'Where was my husband? Where was Tripp?' And she wouldn't answer," said Alicia Weed, Tripp's wife. "I got a call from the children's hospital about my son."
Weed and Tripp's son, Drew, was severely injured in the accident. Tripp, 37, lost his life in the crash.
"My husband was helping coach my son's football team," Weed said. "They were actually on their way to football practices."
It was a time of day that none of the family thought someone could be driving impaired.
"The other driver came through the intersection," said Debbie Turbeville, Tripp's mother. "There were a lot of witnesses, because of that time of day, who thought he's been driving erratically, certainly at a high rate of speed."
Police determined the man responsible, James Furman Prescott, had been smoking synthetic marijuana, also known as K-2 before the accident. But proving whether that drug use caused the accident was difficult, according to Weed family attorney John Carrigg.
"It was one of the very first felony DUI cases that was based on intoxication by K-2 use," Carrigg said. "SLED did not even have in place the protocols for testing this stuff."
Prescott's charges were eventually downgraded from two counts of felony DUI to reckless homicide and assault and battery. Prescott pleaded guilty and spent two and a half years in prison.
The Weed family tried to find the manufacturer of the drug with little luck. So they turned their attention to who was responsible for selling the drug to their son's killer.
"If you can pin down the people that sold it, they have a store front, you can go after them," Carrigg said. "It's kind of a product's liability aspect because you're selling a very, very dangerous product."
The Weed family eventually reached a six-figure out of court settlement with the business owners. An action they took in hopes of discouraging other businesses from taking the risk.
"Hopefully at some point the insurance companies will quit insuring people who sell this stuff," Carrigg said. "And you can't run a convenience store and sell gasoline without insurance."
The laws and technology are now catching up with the designer drug market.
"Now, if someone goes out there and smokes this stuff and causes a wreck or serious injury, they're going to be facing a felony DUI," Carrigg said. "They're going to be looking at 25 years in prison. Now, we can test for it. Now, they can tell."
Carrigg explained SLED did find Spice products at the store that the Weed family sued. At the time, the ingredients in those Spice packets were not found on the federal list of banned chemicals, so criminal charges against the store owners were not filed. That list is now updated every few months to keep up with the changing chemical formulas of the drug.
"You don't have to be using it yourself," Debbie said. "You don't have to care about someone who's using it. You can be driving to do your errands like they were doing that day. Minding your business, going about your day and someone can take your life and the law is limited in terms of what it can do to make them pay."
The attorney for the business owners would not comment on this story.
The Weed family is hoping to work with lawmakers to eventually increase penalties for those who cause wrecks or injury to others while high on spice.