Man avoids $525 fine for soda refill at VA hospital

By Morgan Cox,

An 89-cent soda refill almost resulted in a $525 fine for a Charleston, S.C. man.

Construction worker Christopher Lewis was working on-site at the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center when he decided to grab a refill of his drink without paying during his lunch break in the hospital cafeteria. Unfortunately, Lewis did not notice the signs displayed in the cafeteria stating refills were not free.

"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.

Lewis tried to explain to the officer that he had no knowledge that refills were not free, and even admitted to refilling his drink in the past without paying. According to Yahoo! News, he attempted to pay for his refill, but the officer would not allow him to and instead issued him a ticket for shoplifting.

"I never had an option to make right what I had done wrong. Every time I look at the ticket, it's unbelievable to me, you know. I can't fathom the fact that I made an 89 cent mistake that cost me $525," Lewis said.

Along with the ticket Lewis was issued, he was also asked not to return to the property, which resulted in him losing his construction job.

"I'm done there, at the VA hospital. 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 go to the cafeteria and he said he wanted me off the premises," Lewis explained.

The medical center released the following statement:

"The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center is 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. Today a Federal citation was issued for shoplifting in the VA cafeteria to an individual who stated to VA police he had not paid for refills of beverages on multiple occasions, even though signs are posted in the cafeteria informing patrons refills are not free. Shoplifting is a crime. The dollar amount of the ticket is not determined by VA as it is a Federal citation. The citation may be paid or the recipient may choose to appear in Federal court to contest it."

Lewis contested the fine in federal court, and according to the Associated Press, Lewis' ticket has been dismissed and he will now get off with a warning.

"It's about pretty much I guess you would say getting your face back. I want everybody to know that I made a simple mistake, that I'm not a thief, that I'm not dishonest. I'm trying to do the right thing," Lewis said.



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