Teen jumper had been smoking fake pot, police say

Abington police are investigating the possibility that an Upper Moreland teenager had smoked synthetic marijuana, a legal substance, before he jumped from the Willow Grove Park Mall parking garage Wednesday night.

Detective Sgt. Steven Fink said the 16-year-old, whom he declined to name because of his age, was recovering in Abington Memorial Hospital after leaping off the three-story garage at 8:30 p.m.

When transported to the medical center, the teen was conscious and talking, Fink said.

What happened Wednesday night was the subject of intense scrutiny today by Abington detectives, one of whom was sent to the hospital to monitor the teen's recovery.

Three other teens who were with the young man at the time had not been charged with any crime, the sergeant said.

"As far as we can determine, no crime has been committed," Fink said.

Police said in a formal statement that the boy was sitting in a car with three friends about 8 p.m. when "he began to act oddly and may have been hallucinating."

"He suddenly climbed out of the car. . . and ran full speed and leaped off of the deck," police said in the statement.

Fink said investigators believe the boy had smoked synthetic marijuana "sometime prior to the incident."

Synthetic marijuana - also known as "spice," "K2" and fake weed - is a manmade chemical compound that can be sprayed on a natural herb.

"It produces a high similar to THC," Fink said. "You can go into a store and buy it. Due to a loophole in the law, it's not a banned substance."

That could change very soon.

Though federal authorities imposed a temporary ban on the sale and possession of five chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana, the ban has no teeth until reflected in a state statute, said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.

Such a bill, outlawing both the powerful drug known as "bath salts" and synthetic marijuana, passed the state Senate by a unanimous vote Wednesday and was headed to Gov. Corbett's desk. A spokesman said the governor would sign it.

Ferman said she had learned about the existence of the synthetic compounds, and the dangers they pose, in the last few months.

"It's really important that people understand that these chemical compounds don't exist in nature, but they can be just as deadly," the district attorney said.

Although there had been incidents of bizarre behavior throughout the Commonwealth that had been tied to use of the synthetic compounds, such incidents had evaded Montgomery County.

"That changed yesterday," Ferman said.

The chemical compounds are manufactured overseas and are typically laced on plant material and sold as herbal incense or plant food in stores or over the Internet.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, increased use of synthetic marijuana has led to a surge in emergency-room visits and calls to poison-control centers. Adverse health effects include seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior, agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure.

The school year for Upper Moreland High School, where all four teens are students, ended officially June 10.

Officials in the security office of the Willow Grove Park Mall declined comment, saying the incident was a police matter. The mall's management office did not return a call.

The shopping center located at Easton, Moreland and Old Welsh Roads sits on the site of a famous Victorian-era amusement park where John Philip Sousa once entertained with his band.

The mall opened in 1982, according to the mall's website.


Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com

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