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Hillsborough deputies investigate how drug got into 4-year-old's Skittles

TAMPA — How did a 4-year-old find oxycodone in her Skittles?

The real-life riddle has detectives in a quandary.

Bailey Barzano was in the care of her grandparents Sunday when a trip to Tampa International Airport turned into a potentially life-threatening episode.

Jeffrey and Holly Ball of Homosassa were waiting for a relative at the airport's curbside pickup when granddaughter Bailey told them she needed to use the rest­room.

Holly Ball, 48, walked Bailey to the women's restroom at the red baggage claim area near the Sikorsky elevators.

Bailey went into her own stall — the only time the family says she was outside of adult supervision, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Maj. Harold Winsett.

Then, the pair returned to the car to continue waiting, with the young girl in the back seat.

At some point, Bailey handed her grandfather what looked like an unopened bag of Tropical Skittles. No one thought to ask where the candy came from.

Jeffrey Ball, 40, told deputies he opened the package and handed it back to the girl.

When Bailey had her fill, she returned the blue bag of sugary, fruit-flavored candy to her grandfather, who folded up the wrapper and placed it in the console, Winsett said.

Bailey's uncle, James Shye, 23, finally arrived. He greeted his family and the four headed out of the airport bound for Homosassa.

When Shye said he was hungry, Jeffrey Ball offered him a partially eaten bag of Skittles.

Shye poured the candies into his hand. Out came pills.

The adults in the car were horrified by the implications.

They noticed that Bailey was behaving strangely and seemed lethargic. Had she ingested some of these pills?

The family drove straight to University Community Hospital in Carrollwood.

Sheriff's detectives arrived shortly after noon. They found four pills that seemed to be oxycodone, a narcotic pain medicine, and sent them off for tests.

In Homosassa, Bailey's mother, Veronica Shye, 27, was working in a restaurant when she got the news and rushed to Tampa.

Bailey was in and out of sleep, intravenous tubes connected to her small body. She stayed overnight until doctors felt safe that she was in the clear.

Doctors believe Bailey swallowed the controlled substance, but aren't sure how much, Winsett said.

The fact that she chewed the pills like candy may have slowed how quickly her body absorbed any narcotic, doctors told her mother.

TIA police, meanwhile, went into overdrive.

Airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said the airport pulled all 2.17-ounce bags of Skittles from the shelves of its stores and inspected them for signs of tampering. Police found nothing unusual and started to think the candy probably hadn't been purchased there.

Turns out, TIA hasn't sold tropical-flavored Skittles for months.

Deputies are continuing their inquiry. They interviewed Bailey once, Winsett said, but hope to have better results with the help of someone skilled in questioning very young children. "She's a beautiful 4-year-old little girl who is full of energy,'' he said.

Winsett believes it's possible someone opened the bag, dropped in the pills, then resealed it. He said his office experimented with the wrappers and found it's not that hard to do — at least if the consumer isn't paying close attention to the condition of the packaging. But he cautioned against blaming the maker of the candy.

"We don't have anything to indicate that this is anything other than an isolated incident," Winsett said.

Skittles manufacturer William Wrigley Jr. Co. said the company is cooperating with the investigation, which Winsett said includes trying to track where the bag was purchased.

In an unrelated case last week, a Clay County teenager shopping at a Middleburg CVS pharmacy reported finding a bag with 1.2 grams of cocaine inside a box containing Skittles bags.

Mary Justino, a sheriff's spokeswoman there, said deputies closed the case after security camera footage yielded no leads.

In a written response to inquiries Tuesday, company spokeswoman Jennifer Jackson-Luth said Wrigley goes "to extraordinary lengths to ensure maximum product safety standards."

On Tuesday afternoon, a carefree Bailey splashed in the pool at her grandmother's house while her mother spoke to reporters.

Veronica Shye said she doesn't have any theories about what happened. The mother said she never gives her children candy, except maybe on Halloween.

"I know how she is," Shye said. "If she saw candy, she would definitely pick it up and hide it."

Detectives noted that while the grandparents didn't notice her carrying anything in the airport, Bailey was wearing a pink skort with pockets that day.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Hillsborough deputies investigate how drug got into 4-year-old's Skittles 07/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 10:11am]
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