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89 cent refill $525: Worker fined $525 for 'shoplifting' soda at VA Hospital
The $525 ticket given to Christopher Lewis for his "crime" of failing to pay for an .89 cent soda refill.

An 89 cent refill costing $525? In what sort of obtuse world does that make "cents" to anyone? These aren’t travelers chafing at the cost of sky-high airport restaurants, or price-gouged patrons rankled over the price of movie theater snack fare, it was a construction worker going for a soda refill at a South Carolina Veterans Affairs hospital.

According to a report from The Associated Press on April 17, as carried by MSN News, when North Charleston resident Christopher Lewis “refilled his drink without paying Wednesday, a federal police officer gave him a ticket. Lewis is a construction worker and says he never noticed the signs and has refilled his drink without paying before.”

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center issued a statement saying that there are multiple signs, in plain view, indicating that refills are not free, and that Lewis purposely ignored the signs. Lewis was ultimately given a $500 ticket for “theft of government property,” plus the standard “bend over” processing fee of $25 bucks.

According to Lewis, he was not even allowed to fork over the measly 89 cents, and he was further humiliated by being booted and advised he was not to return. So all in all, his absentee refill payment equated into a $525 fine.

“As I was filling my cup up, I turned to walk off and a fella grabbed me by the arm and asked me was I going to pay for that, and I told him I wasn't aware that I had to pay for that,” Lewis told WCSC-TV. “I never had an option to make right what I had done wrong.”

But according to the USA Today, there was a bit more to the story than a humble worker and his soda pop negligence. A hospital spokesperson said Lewis became “aggressive” when the federal police officer, who is on duty at the hospital, confronted him. This may explain why Lewis was kicked out, but not why he was sallied with a preposterous penalty.

In the statement, the VA medical center said it was “fortunate to have a highly trained federal police force to ensure the safety of our patients, visitors and employees. As federal police, they are responsible for enforcing the law ... Shoplifting is a crime.”

“I'm done there, at the VA hospital,” Lewis told WCSC-TV. “I'm not allowed to go on the premises anymore. I asked him can I still work on the job site and just bring my lunch and not got to the cafeteria and he said he wanted me off the premises.”

Good to know that our federal police forces are protecting every last ounce of soda syrup and carbonated water.

Update: The Associated Press today released an updated report, stating that Lewis will just “get off with a warning.” States the AP: “VA spokeswoman Tonya C. Lobbestael said after reviewing what happened at the Ralph C. Johnson Center in Charleston, officials decided a warning was sufficient.”

Speaking of ridiculous things...

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