Aurora mom sues tobacco shop over teen's death

An Aurora mother whose teenage son died in a high-speed crash after smoking synthetic marijuana filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday accusing a tobacco shop of selling him an “unreasonably dangerous” product.

“I understand my son is already gone and there's nothing I can do to save him — but I can still fight for him,” Karen Dobner said tearfully.

Just days after his 19th birthday, Dobner's son Max called his brother saying he smoked the “legal stuff” and was experiencing symptoms consistent with a panic attack. Later that day, he ran a stop sign in North Aurora, and hit a garden wall. His car became airborne, and crashed into a house, police said.

On Tuesday, Dobner's mother filed a lawsuit in DuPage County accusing the Cigar Box in Aurora of selling an “unreasonably dangerous” product — iAroma Hypnotic — which she contends ultimately led to her son's death June 14.

According to the lawsuit, the Cigar Box, formerly at the Westfield Fox Valley mall, was not properly licensed to sell tobacco in Aurora or operate as a business in DuPage County at the time of the crash. The shop since has closed and its owner, identified in the lawsuit as Ruby Mohsin of Glen Ellyn, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit says iAroma Hypnotic was “intentionally mislabeled” as potpourri, but Mohsin knew or should have known it was “routinely, if not exclusively, used as something smoked by people” when the store sold it to Max Dobner and a friend the afternoon of the crash.

Only marshmallow leaf and fruit scent were listed as ingredients on the package, according to the lawsuit, but the product contained synthetic cannaboids that are “exponentially more potent than natural marijuana and cause pronounced psychological and physical reactions in the human body, including delusions, paranoia, cardiac issues and panic attacks.”

“The packaging for the ‘iAroma' product in question contained no directions as to what its uses were or how it was to be used,” the lawsuit says. “The packaging does, however, depict, both front and back, wisps of rising smoke” while making “no reference as to who makes the item, where it is made, who is responsible for it, or who can be contacted about the contents.”

In an ongoing battle, Illinois has banned several synthetic cannaboids that mimic marijuana's effects in recent years. But authorities say designers typically circumvent changes in the law by altering their formulas slightly.

Karen Dobner, who is seeking a judgment of at least $50,000, said the lawsuit is one of several steps she's taking to help protect other youths and find justice for her son.

She is also launching a nonprofit foundation, To the Maximus, and is lobbying for drug law changes. So far, Aurora, North Aurora, and Sugar Grove have banned synthetic marijuana.

“I would like for people who sell these drugs to be held accountable. It's really just that simple,” said Dobner, who was on her way to report a Sugar Grove-area business to police Tuesday for stocking synthetic pot. “I can't even believe how far we've come in the last few months as far as educating and informing the public about what was going on under their noses. It's a very shady business.”

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  The scene of the June 14 crash in North Aurora that killed 19-year-old Max Dobner of Aurora. John Starks/
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