Pontiac — The girlfriend of a 20-year-old Royal Oak man who committed suicide two years ago testified Thursday his behavior changed dramatically after he smoked a dangerous synthetic marijuana-like product known by the street name K2.
Stefsha Masseth, 21, was called to testify by attorneys for the family of John Anthony Sdao, a criminal justice student who killed himself in April 2012.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Oakland Circuit Court, Sdao’s family is suing the gas station where its believed he bought a product called “Bob Marley.” They are also suing the wholesaler who sold the product to the station.
Masseth said her boyfriend went from being a “fun, loving and caring” person to someone who seemed “distant” and “anxious” after using the synthetic marijuana.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that but for the K2 he would still be around today,” said Masseth.
In the hours before his death, Sdao sent text messages to several friends saying “goodbye.” Masseth said she also received disturbing texts from Sdao saying that he “couldn’t handle” things anymore and “was about to snap.” Sdao complained he was “a bad boyfriend” who had let everyone down.
“It was scary, it didn’t sound like him and I thought it was the K2 “ said Masseth who was concerned enough to contact Sdao’s mother, whom he lived with in Royal Oak.
The mother told Masseth she had talked with her son and he seemed fine.
“But in his last call he told me he loved me and the phone went silent ... I thought he was just ignoring me,” Masseth sobbed.
Several hours later Sdao’s mother found he had hanged himself in a bedroom closet of their home, his cellphone and a pipe nearby.
The jury of four men and four women in Judge Michael Warren’s court also heard Masseth testify that she had smoked marijuana with Sdao several times and his behavior had always been “happy” after using marijuana.
Masseth also testified that a year before his death, Sdao had told her he had thought about suicide, choking himself with a belt “because he didn’t want to be here anymore.”
The 2013 complaint names Sara Corporation, which owns the 12 Mile and Campbell Road Mobile station where Sdao allegedly purchased the product, and Yassmine Wholesalers.
In court filings, attorneys for the defendants have noted that the product was legally sold in April 2012 and carried a “not for human consumption” warning on the package. Attorneys have stressed the death was a suicide by hanging, not a drug overdose, and Sdao was a chronic drug user depressed over a break-up with Masseth and an arrest for marijuana possession a few weeks before his death.
Dr. Gerald Shiener, head of Sinai Grace Hospital’s psychiatry department, testified this week that he believes the Sdao suicide would not have happened without him smoking the synthetic marijuana.
In a court document Shiener wrote: “The abuse of psychoactive substances such as herbal marijuana alternatives is capable of causing and aggravating the effects of underlying mental illness ... these compounds are capable of causing an emotional disorder that can lead to suicide or other self-destructive behavior...”
The lawsuit notes Spice or K2 has been linked to several tragic incidents, including the fatal overdose of an 18-year-old Bloomfield Township man and the baseball bat attack on a Farmington Hills family that resulted in the death of the homeowner and serious injuries to his wife and teen son.
Critics of those who sell the synthetic drug say they are aware that it is purchased by people seeking a “legal” high similar to that of marijuana.
A Royal Oak drug coalition also mailed out advisories to area merchants before the death, warning of abuse of the product and asking them to remove it from their shelves.
According to court filings, the family is seeking damages to be determined by a jury for pain and suffering including more than $2 million in earnings Sdao would have realized over his life as a police officer and more than $26,000 in death-related expenses.