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Widow of Dead Oriole To Sue Maker of Diet Supplement

Feb 25, 2003 | AP

A week after Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died of heatstroke, the lawyer for his pregnant widow vowed to sue the maker of Xenadrine RFA-1, the diet supplement Bechler was believed to be taking and that may have contributed to his death.

The supplement contains the controversial stimulant ephedra.

David Meiselman, who was retained last week by Kiley Bechler, revealed plans on Monday to sue Cytodyne Technologies in a telephone interview with The Washington Post from his White Plains, N.Y., office.

"Our position very clearly is that Steve Bechler is dead, and that ephedra killed him," Meiselman said. "We intend to get this product off the shelves and put the manufacturer out of business. ... I am all for free enterprise, but a company that knowingly sells a product that kills people is no longer entrepreneurial, but predatory."

Cytodyne Technologies responded to Meiselman's accusations with a statement, that read in part:

"The death of Steve Bechler is tragic and our condolences go out to his family. However, the position of the attorney making this accusation is based on neither fact nor science. Xenadrine has been used safely and effectively by over 20 million people in the U.S. alone. ... There is not a single clinical study that has shown ephedra to be unsafe. In view of this, it's reckless for anyone to point blame for Mr. Bechler's tragic death at this product.

"Moreover, it is even more irresponsible to make those accusations considering they have no evidence at this time that Mr. Bechler even used this product."

Bechler died Feb. 17, one day after collapsing on a practice field near the end of the Orioles' third workout of spring training.

Joshua Perper, the Broward County medical examiner, cited preliminary findings during a Feb. 18 news conference that Bechler's use of ephedra was a contributing factor in his death. Perper's final report, including results of toxicology tests, is expected to be completed and released within two weeks.

"Yes, ephedra was one of the significant elements" in Bechler's death, Perper told The Washington Post on Monday. He also cited several other factors, including an enlarged heart, slight hypertension, a liver abnormality and borderline high-blood pressure.

Xenadrine RFA-1, a bottle of which was found in Bechler's locker after his collapse, contains a warning label saying the consumer should consult a physician before using it "if you are at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, recurrent headaches, liver, thyroid or psychiatric disease."

Meiselman did not put a figure on the planned lawsuit and said its filing was still "weeks away." He said he has not considered whether he believes the Orioles are also liable for Bechler's death, saying the team has "handled everything in the way we would want it to be handled."

When Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke Aug. 1, 2001, his family filed a $100 million wrongful-death suit that named Vikings coaches, trainers and medical personnel. Although a bottle of a diet supplement that contained ephedra was found in Stringer's locker, an autopsy failed to find any in his system.

In its statement, Cytodyne placed blame on the Orioles. "It's unfortunate that the Orioles' organization has chosen to ignore the fact that Mr. Bechler had a history of hypertension, liver disease and heat illness episodes and that he was allowed to exercise without proper hydration and nutrition."

Team officials have said their on-field coaching and training staffs did all they could to save Bechler's life, and Perper has praised their quick actions. The team also said it was unaware of Bechler's use of the supplement and that it does not condone its use.

In the meantime, the Orioles have set in motion plans for financial assistance for Kiley Bechler, who is expecting the couple's first child, a girl she plans to name Haley, in April.

Ephedra, which has been linked to 88 deaths according to the Food and Drug Administration, is used in other products by companies other than Cytodyne.

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