Teen charged with felony after accusation he put sanitizer in teacher's drink

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. - Some saw it as a harmless prank but the Polk County Sheriff said the 14-year-old student who put hand sanitizer in his teacher's drink needs a lesson in respect.

"What he did was attempt to poison his teacher," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Zachary Malvasia has been charged with a felony. The incident happened at Crystal Lake Middle School as students were ready to go to lunch.

"That's going to affect him for the rest of this life. I could understand if he brought a weapon to school," said parent Julie Smith.

According to the arrest affidavit, the teacher had stepped out of the classroom. When she came back and took a sip of water she said it tasted "chalky or flowery." Two witnesses said they saw the teen put sanitizer into her cup.

"I probably think it was done as a joke, end-of-school-year prank," said Debbie Burchell, grandmother of the teenager who was charged.

Channel 9's Julie Salomone asked Judd if the punishment was too harsh. He said the type of behavior Malvasia is accused of won't be tolerated.

"As we all know there are chemicals that can be put into her coffee that she couldn't smell until she was very ill or worse," said Judd.

The teacher did go to a hospital. Poison control representatives told Salomone that last year they had more than 740 calls in Florida about ingesting sanitizer. They said the majority of the calls were related to children.

"I mean obviously he probably wasn't thinking or thought it was a joke or whatever," said Burchell.

Neither school officials nor Malvasia's parents would comment on the story.

Some parents who spoke with Salomone outside the school said they believe the charges are too harsh a punishment.