CHEESE LED TO FALSE RESULTS FOR COCAINE IN ASHEVILLE
ASHEVILLE - A favorite food of millions may have been the culprit in false
drug-test results that led to a California man's jailing on cocaine charges.
The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office said Friday an enzyme present in cheese
and possibly some types of dough appeared to have yielded false results that
led to cocaine charges against Antonio Hernandez Carranza. Hernandez spent
four days in the Buncombe County jail until state lab results showed the
substances in the back of his truck were tortilla dough, cheese and other
Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan and Lt. Randy Sorrells said they only recently
learned how the common food can fool drug tests. Positive tests are
considered probable cause and can be used to bring charges and jail suspects
under high bonds, effectively keeping them imprisoned.
Along with revealing the test flaw, police are also now saying they will
reimburse Hernandez for $400 in food taken following his May 1 arrest.
The plight of the Mexican national, who is a legal resident but speaks
little English, angered Latino advocates and brought widespread attention to
the Sheriff's Office.
The sheriff said officials are trying to speak with the president of the
company of at least one of the test manufacturers.
"What we are going to do now is check with the manufacturers and find out
what they have found can cause false positives and put that into the
training with our officers," Duncan said.
Three different field tests indicated the presence of cocaine in food
Hernandez said was a gift for his sister in Johnson City, Tenn.
Already in jail under a $1,500 bond for failing to heed blue lights and
sirens and driving while intoxicated - a charge later dropped after a
breathalyzer test showed no alcohol - Hernandez was charged with cocaine
possession and his total bond raised to $300,000.
Deputies say they rushed the food to a state lab for a more definitive test,
where they soon learned there were no drugs involved. Hernandez was found
guilty of failing to heed lights and sirens and let go on time served.
Confused deputies later redid the tests, which rely on a color change, and
noticed that cheese set it off the most, as did the dough, to a lesser
extent, Sorrells said.
They then went to state lab technicians.
"They said, 'It's not common, but it is known. It's not the first time they
had ever heard of it," Sorrells said.
Deputies have contacted the manufacturers of the tests to try to get more
information, he said.
The sheriff, meanwhile, said his office would reimburse Hernandez for the