Tokemon: 11-year-old boy sickened by synthetic marijuana
Dec. 20, 2014 at 9 p.m.
PORT LAVACA - After a couple puffs of synthetic marijuana, 11-year-old Dominic Caldera said he forgot who he was.
"I didn't know my name, how old I was - I forgot everything," he said.
Dominic recounted the story last week as he sat anxiously on a red couch in his Port Lavaca living room. He and his mother came forward to tell their story to warn others about the dangers of an illegal drug marketed with child-friendly cartoon packaging and brand names like "Tokemon."
Amid joyful Christmas decorations and the blinking lights of their tree in their home, Dominic and his mother, Christine Gonzales, talked about their ordeal. With tears in her eyes, the boy's mother looked down at a picture of Dominic lying in a hospital bed. He appeared to be sleeping.
Dominic, a fifth-grade student at Jackson Roosevelt Elementary who loves science, traced the picture with his finger and said he had a fuzzy memory of being in the hospital.
"I remember seeing myself in that bed," he said. "My grandpa was there. He asked me if I was all right."
Dominic came in and out of sleep a lot while at the hospital, but said his first solid memory was finding a Halo video game action figurine in his pocket.
He was taken to the hospital Dec. 6 after a stranger found him in a church parking lot, lying face up in the grass.
Before ending up there, Dominic was agitated and thought people were chasing him.
Dominic left his home that Saturday afternoon to pick up his cellphone charger from a family member's house.
He was supposed to be right back, his mother said.
It was hours later when a paramedic called her.
"I thought he'd been hit by a car," she said. "That was the only thing that crossed my mind. Then they told me he'd been poisoned."
His mother later learned the poisoning actually was synthetic marijuana.
Dominic said he ran into a family friend, Lisa Ann Lozano, 36, while he was headed to get his charger. He said she had recently moved and wanted to show him her new house.
Once they arrived, Dominic said Lozano told him she had to go to the restroom. Three other adults also were in the house on Main Street and were smoking. When his friend, Lozano, returned, she offered him a hit.
"I was curious," he said.
Immediately, he started to feel weird and freaked out.
Alone and scared, Dominic was asked to leave.
"She told me to get up and go," he said. "I had a hard time getting up.
"I couldn't walk - I couldn't bend my arm to open the door."
Dominic was finally able to get outside with his friend's help and said he remembers falling down.
"I felt numb, dizzy," he said. "I saw crazy stuff."
He said his friend grabbed him tightly, held him and told him to be quiet. Even though she had kicked him out, he said, she tried to get him to go back in the house because he was making a lot of noise outside.
"I was scared," he said.
Dominic's mother said she's heard the story several times since her son was admitted to the hospital, but still welled up with tears as he told it again. She never thought something like this would happen to him.
"I'm very angry," Gonzales, 40, a factory worker, said, "angry an adult did this."
Detectives with the Port Lavaca Police Department said this is their first case involving a child as young as Dominic, but said synthetic marijuana is a growing problem. Even more alarming is how its manufacturers and dealers are targeting children, police said.
Popular cartoon characters such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Scooby-Doo and Pokemon cover many of the foiled packages. However, on some packaging, Pokemon becomes "Tokemon."
"The effects it has on a person is pretty bad," Port Lavaca Sgt. Eric Salles said. "Just a little makes them uncontrollable and hallucinate - it's like being in a different world."
The day before Dominic landed in the hospital, officers in Port Lavaca seized 150 bags of synthetic marijuana based on a Crime Stoppers tip. Also, in 2012, a fifth-grade student at Shields Elementary in Victoria brought the drug to school, according to Advocate archives.
Following a 2011 statewide ban, Crossroads law enforcement have made multiple arrests of people selling the products at bars and stores.
"It's affecting our community pretty badly," Salles said.
Second to marijuana, synthetic marijuana is the most commonly abused drug by high school seniors, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Salles said the department's investigation has shown a broad cross-section of people, from children to adults, using the drug in the community.
"We find more of this stuff than we do marijuana," he said. "But I can't even imagine an 11-year-old doing it."
Part of the problem, he said, is many people are still under the incorrect assumption synthetic marijuana is legal.
"I still hear them call it legal weed," Salles said.
Dominic, who said he didn't know what was being offered to him when he took the drug, said he wanted to tell his story because he wants to prevent other children from taking it.
"I could have died," he said. "It's scary when you don't know who you are."