Food and Drug Administration officials have apologized to a Fircrest couple after two news organizations, quoting unnamed FDA sources, reported that a syringe found in a Diet Pepsi can at the couple's home may have belonged to a diabetic relative, according to the couple's attorney.
FDA officials say they don't know where the report originated, while the couple's attorney, Frank Ladenburg, says the case can't be explained away as an accident or a mistake.
The reports by The Los Angeles Times and CBS-TV raised the possibility that a diabetic relative was the source of the syringe that Earl and Mary Triplett, 82 and 79, say they found in a can of Diet Pepsi last week.
Ladenburg confirmed last night that the Tripletts' daughter has a mother-in-law who is diabetic. Many diabetics use such syringes for insulin injections. But Ladenburg said the mother-in-law was last in the Tripletts' apartment 11 years ago and was in a hospital when the syringe was found.
The FDA, says Ladenburg, called the Tripletts to apologize for the reports and denied knowledge of their origin.
"I'm bothered by the fact that this has started with the premise that it must have been a mistake and it could not have happened," Ladenburg said last night. "It's clear to me Pepsi doesn't want this to be true."
Whatever happened to that can of soda, it struck a national nerve, but yesterday the FDA reiterated its belief that not one of more than 60 tampering reports, in nearly half the nation's states, can be proved. Arrests for alleged false reporting continued yesterday.
"Reports of tampering breed additional reports," said FDA chief David Kessler in Washington, D.C. "It is a vicious cycle."
The cycle started in Fircrest.
Ladenburg said he "absolutely" believes the Tripletts' story. "These people aren't the kind of people that would make things up," he said.
The Tripletts' daughter, Marilyn Larkin, has a mother-in-law who is diabetic, the lawyer said. But the mother-in-law was last in the Tripletts' apartment 11 years ago for the couple's 50th wedding anniversary and was in a hospital when the contaminated can was found. Ladenburg also said Larkin insists she did not take a can of Pepsi into her parents' home.
Larkin, 60, told the lawyer she picked up her parents on June 8 upon their return from a cruise and dropped them off at home. She told him she did not go into the apartment and was not drinking Diet Pepsi.
That night, Earl Triplett took a can from a 24-pack of Pepsi, poured half in his wife's cup and drank the other half with a straw, Ladenburg said. Neither apparently noticed it was Diet Pepsi, not regular Pepsi. Last week the Tripletts told reporters the Diet Pepsi can mysteriously came in the pack of regular Pepsi, their drink of choice.
The next morning Earl Tripplett picked up the can from the counter to look for a contest word inside and found the syringe.
Ladenburg said FDA officials, who have been to the Tripletts' house twice, recovered all the opened cans - being saved for recycling - and unopened cans. He said they found all 24 - 23 regular Pepsi and one diet Pepsi.
The couple insists no one else came into their apartment after they came home from their trip. And, Ladenburg said, the only person who had the key would have been the apartment manager.
Francis Click, the manager, last night said he has not been in the Tripletts' apartment for years.
In the Los Angeles Times story, sources were quoted as saying investigators determined that Larkin's mother-in-law could have placed the syringe in the soda can as a protective measure before disposing of it, which the newspaper said is a recommended procedure.
But Andrea Seidler of the Washington affiliate of the American Diabetic Association said disposal of a syringe in a pop can is not recommended because it could lead to an accident. A child might try to take a drink, for example.
Instead, syringes should be disposed of in some sort of container that can be re-sealed, like a coffee can, or in a clear pop bottle, and then labeled to warn people, Seidler said.
As for the link to Larkin's diabetic mother-in-law, an FDA spokesman in Seattle, Alan Bennett, last night said he could not confirm it, "and we have talked to D.C."
To his knowledge, nothing has changed in the Triplett case.
"We don't want to get into the idea of speculation. . . . We want to make sure that we do have it all together and we know what happened," Bennett said. "As soon as we can determine what's going on, I'm sure we'll come out with it."
Said Ladenburg: "I would hate to think this could happen and then see it all go away" with an explanation that it was just a mistake.
Earl Triplett, contacted at his Fircrest apartment, said he and his wife, Mary, are no longer giving interviews.
"I have nothing to say," he said before closing the door.