Thursday marked one year since Aurora teen Max Dobner was killed as he crashed into a house while under the influence of synthetic marijuana. In honor of his life, Max's mother, Karen, is hosting the Max Dobner Memorial Picnic Saturday in order to raise funds for a headstone for her son, and to raise awareness of the dangers of synthetic drugs through Max's story.
Hot dogs and sandwiches will be available for sale to picnic-goers from 1 to 6 p.m. at Phillips Park in Aurora. Dobner has planned for games of volleyball and other sports.
"It will be fun, but we also want to grasp this opportunity and make people perfectly aware of the dangers of synthetic drugs," she said. "None of the kids that leave this picnic will ever try synthetic drugs."
To the best of the Dobner family's knowledge, Max had never used any type of drug before the day he died. On the afternoon of June 14, 2011, Max, who was 19 at the time, and a friend smoked a synthetic cannabinoid they had procured from a tobacco shop that since has has closed.
After Max's death, his brother Justin reported that Max had called him in a panic, saying, "I smoked that legal stuff. My heart is pounding." Though Justin said he had told Max to shower and lie down, Max left his house with doors open and drove to North Aurora, blowing through a stop sign at the intersection of Mooseheart Road and Route 31. Max hit a garden wall, sending his vehicle flying into a house. The house's occupants were in the backyard at the time of the crash.
Dobner said she knew nothing about synthetic drugs until her son's death, but since then has become a mouthpiece to the cause through her foundation -- To The Maximus -- which she began in the week after Max's death.
In the course of the year, Dobner has worked with law enforcement and the medical community across suburban Chicago and beyond to educate and eventually ban the sale of synthetic drugs. Dobner credits the city of Aurora with passing an ordinance to that effect in September, which several communities have imitated. Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner will be at the picnic, Dobner said.
Dobner praise the work of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, which launched Operation Smoked Out in December to get synthetic drug products off the shelves on retail stores. Since the program's launch, Operation Smoked Out has worked with local law enforcement agencies in confiscating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of synthetic drugs across the state.
At the end of May, Madigan also pushed for state legislation to make sale of synthetic drugs illegal, no matter the name, label or brand.
Dobner said the newest reports from Poison Control give her hope, as there has been a significant decrease in calls reporting using synthetic drugs. But she knows this isn't the entire story.
"We still continue to see deaths that never go public," Dobner said, referring to families of those killed in connection with synthetic drug use. "By not going public they are essentially keeping the myth alive that (synthetic cannabis is) a safe alternative to marijuana."