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Pitcher's Widow Sues Drug Firms

Jul 18, 2003 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The widow of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler on Thursday sued the makers of a weight loss supplement linked to his death during spring training in Fort Lauderdale.

Kiley Bechler's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, seeks $600 million in damages and a ban on the sale of ephedra-based products.

The suit emphatically states: "Steve Bechler is dead. Ephedra killed him."

Named as defendants were New Jersey-based Cytodyne Technologies Inc. and Robert Chinery, its president, chief executive officer and sole shareholder. Also named were Phoenix Laboratories Inc. of New York and an unknown store where Bechler purchased the miracle weight-loss supplement Xendrine-RFA-1, a "poisonous cocktail" of ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin, according to the suit.

An autopsy showed that Bechler died of heatstroke and that ephedra was one of several risk factors contributing to his death. Investigators said he took three Xenedrine pills the day he died and hadn't eaten much for two days before his collapse.

The suit, charges the defendants "placed corporate and personal profits firmly ahead of consumer safety and recklessly endangered the welfare and well-being of a misled public." The defendants could not be reached Thursday.

Kiley and Steve Bechler were high school sweethearts who married a month after he was called up to the majors, the suit says.

In high school in Oregon, he was a star pitcher; she played on the softball team at a rival school. They wore the same jersey number: 22.

They were expecting a child and looked forward to a bright future when, the suit says, Bechler purchased the supplement and "became ensnared in the web of deceit spun by defendants."

The suit claims Chinery and his companies manipulated scientific data to dupe Bechler and other members of the public into thinking the product was safe and effective.

Bechler collapsed Feb. 16 at practice. According to the suit, he couldn't stand up; his body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate rapidly increased. En route to the hospital he experienced seizures, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney failure, liver damage and shock. His body temperature rose above 108 degrees.

The next day, Bechler went into cardiac arrest and died at age 23.

A bottle of Xenadrine RFA-1 was found in Bechler's locker, and toxicology tests showed "significant amounts" of ephedrine in his bloodstream. The Broward County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that ephedra was "a significant factor" in Bechler's death.

The suit seeks damages of $100 million on each of six counts, including wrongful death, failure to warn, negligence and misrepresentation. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck.

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