Eastside Journal

Diet-drug car crash spurs lawsuit:
Ex-Kirklander, freed by Canadian court, now faces civil suit by victims' families


by Noel S. Brady
Journal Reporter

It's been a year since a Canadian court exonerated a former Kirkland woman in a fiery crash that killed two Vancouver, British Columbia-area teen-agers at the Blaine border crossing.

Still, the victims' families want someone held responsible.

Yesterday, Vancouver attorney Greg Samuels filed a civil suit in King County Superior Court that names not only Julia Campagna, the woman who crashed into a car carrying the two victims, but also the maker and retailer of an herbal supplement she was taking.

Three doctors who testified in Campagna's trial said the weight-loss supplement called Xenadrine triggered a temporary psychosis in her and caused her to barrel through the Peace Arch border crossing and into a line of cars in June 1998.

``I think the (Canadian court's ruling) was insane,'' said Cat Simril Ishikawa of Vancouver, whose 19-year-old daughter, Monique, was killed in the crash. ``We consider (Campagna) to be the person responsible for her actions.''

Two years after Ishikawa's only child and her best friend, Kimberly Brooks, 18, were killed, he and the Brooks families want to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.

Campagna worked for a pharmaceutical company at the time of the crash, so she should have recognized the psychotic side effects, Ishikawa said. But if Campagna isn't to blame, anyone who encouraged her to take the mind-altering drug is, he said.

That's why the suit also names the woman's running coach, who suggested she try Xenadrine, and her doctor, who was aware she was taking it, as well as Xenadrine manufacturer Cytodyne Industries, and General Nutrition Corp., the company that owns the Kirkland shop that sold her the TV-advertised capsules.

Campagna, 29, began taking Xenadrine nine days before the crash to lose weight and improve her endurance for marathons. She stopped taking it five days later after experiencing dizziness and other side effects associated with stimulants. But soon she began hallucinating.

Neither Campagna, who now lives in Seattle, nor her attorney could be reached yesterday for comment.

In court, Campagna said she began having delusions about becoming pregnant by Dallas Stars hockey center Joe Nieuwendyk, whom she had never met. The accident happened after she thought she heard his voice through her FM radio telling her to speed through the Peace Arch border crossing to reach him in time to conceive a child.

She never braked as she approached the crossing at about midnight in her 1997 Pontiac Grand Am. The car slammed into the rear of a Honda Accord, and it burst into flames, killing Brooks and Ishikawa and injuring others in nearby cars.

Last September, the British Columbia Supreme Court exonerated Campagna of two counts of vehicular homicide, ruling that she had suffered from a temporary psychosis brought on by Xenadrine.

Earlier this year, Campagna filed her own civil suit in King County Superior Court against the Xenadrine maker and dealer. Defense attorneys in that case recently requested the suit be transferred to federal court.

Because Xenadrine is made in New Jersey, the cases could end up in federal court. If so, Samuels said he'll probably ask to have both cases tried together.

``I expect I'll make a motion to consolidate them,'' he said. ``It has advantages for both the plaintiffs and the defendants.''

In a addition to representing the Ishikawa and Brooks families, Samuels also is suing on behalf of a Minnesota couple injured in the crash. He said he expects it will take more than a year for the case to go to trial.

In the mean time, Ishikawa said he'll continue talking about the dangerous effects of ephedrine, the active ingredient in Xenadrine, which is illegal in Canada.

``If there is something really wrong with this drug, it should be regulated in the U.S. too,'' he said.