A Reston woman who complained of eye damage last month from a contaminated bottle of Visine A.C. eye drops was charged yesterday with giving police a false report of the incident.
Debra D. Hill, 30, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge at her home by Fairfax County police, who also served her with warrants accusing her of credit card fraud and passing bad checks in Fairfax City and Prince George's County.
The Visine A.C. bottle was found by investigators to contain hydrochloric acid. Fairfax County Police Chief Carroll D. Buracker, who earlier expressed "very grave reservations" about Hill's story, said yesterday he doubts that Hill had put the contaminated eye drops in her left eye, as she claimed. He suggested that her eye damage may have been caused by some other, milder substance.
Hill was held at the county jail last night in lieu of $4,000 bond and was not available for comment. She previously denied falsifying her complaint and accused county police of spreading "blatant untruths" about her.
"It looks like the assumption by investigators is that I did it to myself," she said in a recent interview. "I did not do it to myself. Somebody did do it. Nobody's out looking for that person. . . I'm being made out to be the bad guy. I'm being victimized by the police."
Chief Buracker said in an interview after Hill's arrest, "We are fairly sure that we know where the hydrochloric acid came from. We have some question as to whether she put hydrochloric acid in her eye."
Police are known to have conducted an extensive investigation at the Loudoun County campus of Northern Virginia Community College, where officials say Hill is enrolled in a biology course. Hydrochloric acid is available at the campus' science laboratory, according to college officials.
Buracker declined, however, to say whether police have linked the acid in the contaminated Visine A.C. bottle to acid supplies at the school lab.
Hill's arrest should send a "clear message" to any person contemplating taking part in a "me-too" incident by tampering with over-the-counter drugs, Buracker said. "Hopefully, this arrest will serve as a deterrent."
Court records indicate that Hill has had more than 10 conflicts with retail stores and has previously been charged with several offenses, including larceny. The records also contain one assessment of Hill's mental condition.
In a Jan. 10, 1980, letter to a General District Court, Dr. Samuel A. Royola, a psychiatrist at Southwestern State Hospital in Marion, Va., described results of a psychiatric evaluation of Hill by saying:
"She has definitely been exaggerating her psychiatric symptomatology and we feel that she has at least exaggerated if not falsified events in her past life. She is given to self-dramatization and emotional over reactivity. We feel she is best described as exhibiting a 'Hysterical Personality Disorder.' "
Royola added, however, that Hill "is legally competent to stand trial." The psychiatrist examined Hill in connection with a bad check charge that was later dropped.
Hill pleaded guilty in 1976 to a charge of taking less than $100 worth of merchandise from a Woolco Department Store, according to Fairfax County court records. She was given a suspended jail sentence. The records show she was also charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, ranging to $1,067, at stores in Fairfax in 1979. The charges were later dropped. Prince George's County records include a bad check and a false pretense charge lodged against her.
Yesterday she was served with warrants accusing her of credit card fraud at two Fairfax City stores in 1979. The charges involved amounts of $491.39 at a shop called Lady Bug and $113.62 at Wild and Wooly Needlecrafts. A separate warrant accused her of passing a $521.29 bad check in Prince George's County.
Hill said she purchased the Visine A.C. at a Drug Fair store in Herndon. Police said at the time she made her complaint that Hill had had a previous conflict with the store. They added that she refused to take a lie detector test and that she had filed an insurance claim shortly after the incident occurred.
The Food and Drug Administration found the Visine A.C. bottle contained a "relatively strong" concentration of acid, measuring 0.9 on the pH scale. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with the strongest acids having the lowest readings.