Macedon Police received a report of an erratic driver travelling around the Macedon Walmart parking lot on Monday (1/5) at 4:10 p.m.
The car, with front end and undercarriage damage, was stopped and the driver, Carolyn Kesel, age 46, of Seneca Falls, NY, told police she could not find her way out of the parking lot.
Kesel was subsequently arrested for Felony DWI and Felony Aggravated DWI with a BAC of .26% due to a prior DWI conviction in 2006. Kesel was arraigned in Macedon Town Court and remanded to the Wayne County Jail on $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.
The case was very unusual considering Kesel’s drink of choice. Police indicated she had admitted to drinking/possessing at least two bottles of pure vanilla extract.
Pure Vanilla extract has an alcohol content similar to gin or vodka at up to 41% alcohol. To be called “pure vanilla” extract, it must contain no less than 35% alcohol. Police, probation and even some drug experts were shocked to learn the high alcohol level in everyday products that can be openly purchased.
According to Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling & Referral Agency Executive Director, Marty Teller, he could count on one hand the number of similar cases he has seen in his 35 year career. His agency serves about 4000 people every year. “That is a hell of a lot of pure vanilla extract.” He suggested that a person using something like pure vanilla extract may be trying to “mask” the smell of alcohol.
Chris Thomas, a drug counselor with the Wayne County Mental Health Department said he has seen cases with adolescents who can easily obtain the food extracts, either by buying, or stealing, the small expensive bottles. He compared the drinking of pure vanilla extract to taking a strong vanilla-flavored cough medicine. “Both kids and adults use it. It smells like a vanilla drink (vanilla Coke, or Pepsi) and no one would know the difference. He indicated that a police traffic stop may result in the officer not smelling the alcohol, but rather the strong vanilla odor.
Surprised by the alcohol content of pure vanilla extract? Other spice rack products are even worse. Pure peppermint extract contains 89% alcohol and pure lemon extract is 83%. The imitation varieties of these products are usually lower, but still contain alcohol. (Imitation vanilla extract has about 17% alcohol, imitation lemon about 34% and imitation peppermint, about 62%).
Ironically, to buy cough syrup, spray paints and even computer keyboard duster spray, stores will often check identifications, even on the elderly. Spice extracts fell under the radar of the same stores. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation prohibiting the sale of liquid nicotine to minors, yet food extracts are legal for minors to purchase.
Jim Haitz, the Mental Health Director for Wayne County said a chronic alcoholic will ingest mouth wash (about 22% alcohol) or even hand sanitizer with as much as a 63% alcohol content.
Richard Stevens, the Probation/Correctional Director for Wayne County was shocked to learn the alcohol levels in food extracts. “I didn’t know that. This blows me away. How can they sell that stuff in grocery stores.”
Stevens said he is now having a staff meeting to make his officers, who often deal with alcohol probation offenses, aware that the vanilla, peppermint, orange, or lemon fragrance may be a masking tool for habitual alcoholics. “This is a new one for us,” admitted Stevens.
According to Breen’s Shop’n Save Manager/Owner, Terry Breen Ziegler, the Breen family will now make all cashiers in their three Wayne County stores aware of the potential problem with extracts.
Bill Paton of Paton’s MarketPlace in Sodus, said that he too will now make cashiers aware of the extract issue.
Normally, a two ounce pure vanilla extract can be purchased for anywhere from $4 to $5. Larger bottles are available in many stores.