CLEARWATER — Police say the last thing 19-year-old Logan Kushner did before he went for a swim in the creek where he drowned Sunday morning was smoke "Jazz," a legal herbal incense that users say mimics the effects of marijuana.
"It was just one of those accidents," P.A. Kushner, Logan's mother, said Monday outside her home. Police told her it appeared he slipped, fell and hit his head, which could have led to him falling unconscious in the creek.
"He was not a drug addict. He was just a teenager, goofing off," Kushner said.
Police had earlier reported erroneously that Kushner and a friend were smoking K2, a synthetic cannabinoid banned in Florida and at least 40 other states. Jazz is legal, according to Clearwater police, but not intended for human consumption.
Clearwater police have not said whether Jazz contributed to Kushner's death, although his consumption of the product is one of the few details the agency has released.
To lawmakers who have made banning all synthetic drugs a priority, though, Kushner's death is further evidence of their problems.
"I am deeply saddened to learn of Logan Kushner's death," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement released Monday. "This is exactly why we must do everything in our power to ban all synthetic drugs and protect Floridians."
Bondi is sponsoring bills this year to expand laws passed last year banning some components of synthetic drugs. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri compares the fight to the arcade game Whac-A-Mole, because as soon as the state outlaws one compound used for fake pot, manufacturers come up with a new recipe.
Jazz comes in small neon packages with a saxophone on the front and is available at gas stations and convenience stores across the Tampa Bay area. Jazz's packaging notes that it complies with both federal and Florida laws. A 3-gram package can be bought for about $6.
WARNING: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, the label states. The only listed ingredient is Althaea officinalis, a perennial herb also known as common marshmallow, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Herbal incense ingredient lists are not to be trusted, though, according to Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa.
"There's no way to know until you test the substance what is really in there," she said.
Federal law bans certain chemicals that may be used in some synthetic drugs. However, because there is no reliable testing kit for synthetic drugs, Gualtieri says his deputies cannot go after convenience stores that may be selling the banned substances. Police elsewhere in the country have raided stores for selling synthetic drugs only to find out that the substances they seized are actually legal.
With hundreds of potential ingredients for synthetic drugs, Lewis-Younger is skeptical that law enforcement can get ahead of the manufacturers.
"The ways our laws are constructed, I don't see how they can ever not be behind the eight ball," she said. Manufacturers "are always two steps ahead."
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Kushner was a popular youth who played football and wrestled. He had recently enrolled at Stetson University in DeLand, his mother said, and had joined a fraternity. He was going to quarterback a flag football team.
"Logan was the most generous, compassionate boy from day one all through the rest of his life," Kushner said. "He was always there for people. He's always been there for me."
At Palm Harbor University High School, Kushner took classes in the medical magnet program and volunteered hundreds of hours at Mease Countryside Hospital. After friends found him unresponsive in Kapok Park creek Sunday morning, he was taken back to Mease, where he was pronounced dead.
Monday night, hundreds of his friends gathered back at the park, this time for a candlelight vigil.
Teachers, teens, family and neighbors fanned out across the park and near the shore.
Girls wore T-shirts that had a picture of Kushner in a football jersey. Several people brought flowers and wrote cards. Someone released a balloon.
"He had the biggest, goofiest smile," said Sherilyn Mansfield, 17, a family friend. "You couldn't see his eyes. … It just doesn't make sense."
They shared memories of their friend. He once pulled a prank at school by putting a banana in a urinal. Another time, he plastered his middle school with fliers in a bid to become class vice president. The flier, Mansfield said, included a huge picture of Kushner grinning, with the words "Logan loves you," underneath.
"That's why there are so many people out here tonight," Mansfield said. "Everybody loved him too."
Up the street, police officers directed traffic as more cars streamed into the neighborhood.
Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.