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PSA: Putting Soda in a Fast Food Water Cup Is Actually Not the Perfect Crime

Especially not if you do violence to an employee when you get caught.

by Hannah Keyser
Aug 13 2018, 8:10pm

Photo via Flickr user Tom Conder 

Confronted with all the delicious sugary options of a fast food soda dispenser and seemingly no oversight from any authority figure, it's understandably tempting to fill the complimentary water cup you requested with something more exciting. Or maybe you intended to do so along, orchestrating low-level theft for the intoxicating high of cheating a billion-dollar business out of a buck fifty. (Actually, when you put it like that, I can understand the appeal.) But before you embark on this life of crime, consider whether the 7-Up is worth the squeeze—which could include felony charges if you don't pay up gracefully.

A man in Missoula, Montana was arrested last week after he got in a fight with an Arby's employee who insisted he pay for the soda he stole. Forty-eight-year-old Daniel Stine filled his free water cup with soda and fled the premises when he was confronted by an employee, where he quickly made things worse for himself. According to the Missoula Police Public Information Officer, "The employee followed him, told him that he was not welcome back then he turned and came back towards the employee and tried to kick that person before walking away again."

Police found Stine in the restroom at a nearby Denny's. After initially resisting arrest, Stine was apprehended and charged with several misdemeanors, for his behavior toward the police as well as a felony robbery for the soda heist with a $50,000 bail.

If that feels a little excessive, well, it might be. But Stine may be facing a less harsh punishment for swiping a soda if he hadn't fought the Arby's worker and made a break for it; as it turns out, this sort of thing happens pretty regularly.

In 2016, an Arkansas teen was charged with a felony for pulling a similar stunt at McDonald's—and also for hitting the store manager with his car while fleeing the scene. In 2012, a Florida man had his petty theft upgraded to a felony when it turned out he was a repeat offender of filling complimentary water cups with stolen soda at fast food chains. And while no one is saying the beatdown is a punishment befitting the crime—or that you should participate in the punitive voyeurism of watching the viral video—earlier this summer, a woman was beaten by a McDonald's employee during an argument that started when the customer filled her water cup with soda.

In all of these cautionary tales, there was an escalating incident—the woman in the last example threw a milkshake at her assailant—which means you can probably steal soda and still avoid jail time provided you're willing to cut your losses and pony up a couple bucks if and when you do get caught. But I can't recommend you do that, either, so please, just pay the $1.75 or whatever for the fountain drink.