Journalists have a curious phrase for a story that resounds for days or weeks: We say "it has legs," meaning that it continues to hold our attention as it takes new directions.

"The Chili Finger'' story of several years ago, when a severed finger was put in a bowl of Wendy's chili, was -- forgive me -- a story that had legs.

The Boston Marathon bombings fall into the same category: We crave more news about the history and family of the brothers Tsarnaev.

But something tells me that the story of Ramineh Behbehanian, the 50-year-old chemist arrested on suspicion of placing tainted juice bottles in a San Jose Starbucks, won't exert the same pull.

How do I know this? In part, call it instinct. After 40 years in daily newspapering, I have a sense for what we do not know -- and which directions a story can take.

I don't mean to offer anything less than unstinting praise for the swift police investigation or the quick-witted Starbucks customer who spotted the tainted drinks and the employee who wrote down a license number.

Broadly speaking, however, there are three reasons why I think this story will eventually fade away from the front pages of our thinking:

  • I have doubts about whether the dose of rubbing alcohol in the juice bottles would have been fatal. Basically, someone would have to chug the whole bottle to ingest a lethal amount. Given the way it smelled and tasted, that's highly unlikely. In that sense, it's very different from the Tylenol scare of 1982, where single capsules caused death.


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  • At this point, there is no sign Behbehanian is suspected of acting in concert with anyone else. That could change. But this plot was crude and simple, with no specific target. The most likely scenario is the perpetrator bought the Starbucks bottles earlier and then poured rubbing alcohol into them. Very bad, but no mystery.

  • Finally, I don't see this as an act of international terrorism. A chemist bent on terrorism could have fashioned a far deadlier poison that was colorless and odorless. Various commenters on the Web have been swift to denounce Muslims, though it is not clear that Behbehanian is Muslim. (The name is generally thought to be of Iranian or Armenian origin). The larger point here is that people of all races and creeds are capable of dangerous acts. Think Timothy McVeigh or suspected Colorado gunman James Holmes before you assign blame to an international plot.

    Of course, we don't know the motivation behind the crime. Because a bottle of juice could be purchased by anyone, it's hard to think it was destined for anyone in particular.

    More likely is that the intended victim was Starbucks itself. One wag suggested that the perpetrator meant to return to the line, buy a tainted bottle, and then sue the store. Something like that happened in the chili caper story.

    If that was the scenario, it was foiled by the vigilant response of Starbucks customers and employees. No one really thinks tainted bottles have spread to other stores. It's a happy ending, not an endlessly fascinating story with legs.

    Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.