Teen is accused of putting cleaner in teacher's drink

June 09, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Stephen Lemnah thought he had maintained a good relationship with his students in the two years he has taught auto shop at the Howard County School of Technology.

No one ever put an apple on his desk, but he never thought to worry -- until he sipped his Diet Coke Tuesday morning and learned that someone had sprayed carburetor cleaner into the can.

"Hopefully, it'll never happen again," said Mr. Lemnah, 37, of Frederick. "It's over with now. It hasn't changed my drive to teach."

A 16-year-old Columbia youth, who was charged as a juvenile on a misdemeanor count, was being held in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Services at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County yesterday. He has been suspended indefinitely from the technical school until the state's attorney's office decides how to proceed.

"It possibly was a prank that went bad," said police spokesman Cpl. Kevin Costello. The can of carburetor cleaner had a warning on the label that the material could cause death or blindness if swallowed.

About 9:50 a.m. Tuesday during a break in Mr. Lemnah's class at the technical school in Ellicott City, some students congregated while others tinkered on automobiles. As Mr. Lemnah assisted some students, someone apparently sprayed the carburetor cleaner into his drink, school officials said.

Mr. Lemnah had taken two quick sips from the can when he felt a burning in his mouth and throat. He told police he smelled the cleaner almost immediately after drinking from the soda can.

Police said Mr. Lemnah was taken by ambulance to Howard County General Hospital, where he was treated and released. The teacher's quick reaction to the smell of the cleaning fluid is credited with preventing more serious harm. He was back in the classroom yesterday.

"It's an unfortunate incident," said school Principal Mary Day. "I don't know the motivation behind it, but we're very happy he's OK."

Each of the seven students in the class at the time of the incident was questioned. One of them identified the young suspect, police said.

Patti Caplan, school public information officer, said any student who assaults school staff automatically qualifies for suspension of no less than 10 days. In such a case, the school superintendent can request a longer suspension.

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