Slain toddler's grandmother blames synthetic pot
- The mother of accused child-killer Regina Lester said people need to be warned of the dangers of synthetic pot
- Anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected is urged to call the state's ChildLine at (800) 932-0313
The grandmother of 3-year-old homicide victim Isabel Rose Godfrey wants to warn people about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, which she said changed her daughter's personality "like a light switch."
"If my granddaughter's loss can save one child, then my prayers will be answered," Robin Godfrey told The York Dispatch. "Synthetic marijuana is ruining this country. ... It's very frightening."
Godfrey's daughter, Regina Lester, is in York County Prison without bail, charged with homicide, child endangerment and making terroristic threats.
Lester, 30, of 265 Chesapeake Estates in Jackson Township, was admitted to York Hospital June 8 after Northern York County Regional Police arrested her for allegedly killing Bella. Lester was transferred to prison on Tuesday, according to prison records.
Charging documents state that officers responding to Lester's home shortly after 6 p.m. June 8 found Bella's bruised, lifeless body on the floor of her family's home, with several deep bite marks on her torso.
Nearby were open packages of synthetic pot — also known as spice and K2 — and a smoking pipe, documents allege.
Naked, erratic: Lester was naked and acting erratically when officers arrived at the scene, and the woman had told neighbor Andrew Day she had to kill Bella to get the "darkness" out of her, according to documents. Lester also allegedly threatened to kill a neighbor's children, police have said.
Day, who frequently baby-sat Bella, said Lester told him that "synth" was her "DOC," short for "drug of choice." It was Day's home where Bella's 6-year-old brother fled for help, telling Day, "My mommy’s killing Bella — you need to come quick,’” Day told The York Dispatch.
Day told police that on the way to check on Bella, he saw the nude Lester hugging a tree, charging documents state. Day has said he performed CPR on Bella, but the little girl was already dead.
Lester was a client of the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families and was being drug tested by the agency, according to York County spokesman Carl Lindquist. She also was receiving in-home services from an agency that contracts with CYF, he said.
Synthetic marijuana doesn't show up on typical drug tests, according to Chris Goldstein, a Philadelphia-based advocate for marijuana consumers and patients. The biggest users are people who are regularly drug tested, he said.
'She's fine': Godfrey said she was told by child-services caseworkers that Lester was being drug tested every three days.
"'She's fine,' they'd tell me," Godfrey said, but noted her daughter wasn't being tested for synthetic pot.
Godfrey said CYF caseworkers told her they obtained a test for that drug the day before Bella's homicide.
The grieving grandmother blames synthetic marijuana for the tragedy.
"If marijuana was legal, this would not have happened," Godfrey said. "Now I want to be an advocate for getting synthetic marijuana off the streets. ... I want to warn people about this."
The immediate change in Lester was "like a light switch," according to Godfrey.
"I saw my daughter an hour before this happened," she said, and Lester was acting normally and seemed fine.
It's not pot: Chief deputy prosecutor David Sunday said the drug is not related to actual marijuana.
"The only reason it's even compared to marijuana is because the chemicals in it affect the same chemicals in the brain (as regular pot), and it just happens to visually look similar in some ways to marijuana," he said. "A lot of kids think this is a safe substance ... and it's not. They need to understand that when they smoke synthetic cannabinoids, it's something that can destroy their brains. We've had people go into comas from smoking it."
A 41-year-old man died in York County after ingesting the drug last July, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.
Sunday said synthetic pot is made by drying some sort of plant material — it doesn't really matter what kind — then spraying it with chemicals often ordered online from China. It can cause very serious problems, he said.
"There are a lot of different reactions to it. Things we've seen are vomiting, suicidal thoughts, an altered perception of reality, and some people do have violent behavior," Sunday said.
Hospitalized: In April 2015, at least 12 people, including teens, were sickened by a batch of the drug, and most had to be hospitalized, police have said.
The drug's potency can vary wildly from batch to batch, he said, as can the chemicals used to make it. Spice is illegal, but many manufacturers are now slightly altering the chemical compounds they use to try to avoid prosecution, under the theory that a different chemical compound wouldn't be illegal, according to Sunday.
Those variables make it difficult to predict how individuals will react to the drug, make it harder for police to keep up with the drug and also make it difficult to create effective drug tests for it, the prosecutor noted.
"Synthetic marijuana is a problem that we see in waves — unlike heroin, for example, which we see every day," Sunday said. "We'll go months without having an arrest for synthetic marijuana, and then there will be a whole slew of them in one weekend."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.