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Doctors Postpone Shutoff of Comatose Man’s Life Support

August 14, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ A man who drank a cocaine-laced soft drink from Colombia and collapsed in a coma last month showed apparent signs of life Tuesday, and doctors postponed shutting off his life support systems.

FBI experts warned that 8,000 potentially contaminated bottles of the beverage haven’t been accounted for, and again urged consumers and store owners to turn them in. Agents also said they are looking for Hugo Alfredo Rios, the man who imported the drink, for questioning.

Maximo Rene Menendez, 25, has lain in a coma at AMI Kendall Regional Medical Center since July 26, when he downed a six-ounce bottle of Pony Malta containing 1,000 times the lethal dose of cocaine. Investigators believe the bottle was part of a drug-smuggling scheme that went awry.

His family received a court order Monday allowing doctors to disconnect his life support system after neurologists testified he had no brain activity.

But when a respirator was shut off Tuesday, he had a leg spasm and took shallow breaths, said Dr. Armando Viedes.

″If there are any signs of activity, we will be the first to try anything we can to bring the man back ... but it’s very doubtful,″ the doctor said.

Viedes said doctors would try new tests of Menendez’s brain activities before the family would decide how to proceed.

FBI officials called a news conference Tuesday to warn consumers of Pony Malta, a Colombian soft drink, that 225 cases from a 1,000-case shipment have not been accounted for. All were believed distributed in South Florida.

Lynn Laswell, a chemistry and toxicology expert with the bureau, said 45 contaminated bottles containing up to several ounces each of cocaine have been discovered among that shipment.

″It appears likely that a number of the bottles still unaccounted for may contain cocaine which, if ingested, could cause death,″ he said.

The FBI is looking for Rios, whose Miami Sweet company imported the drink from Cerveceria Bavaria S.A. of Colombia. The producer said Rios wasn’t authorized to import the drink and added that labels on the cocaine-laden drinks were phony and contained several errors.

No charges are pending against Rios, but the FBI said he is not a legal resident and can be detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.