Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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CDC enters investigation of ricin case

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today it has entered the investigation of a 57-year-old man who is hospitalized in critical condition who may have been exposed to the deadly plant toxin ricin.

The Centers for Disease Control says it is working with the Southern Nevada Health District's Environmental Health Division, the FBI and other public health and law enforcement agencies investigating a former resident of the Extended Stay America motel.

CDC investigators believe the man may be the victim of deliberate ricin poisoning, which may be injected, ingested or inhaled.

Metro Police said that they do not believe the city is in danger from a terrorist threat.

Metro Police have not identified the hospitalized man or a 53-year-old relative or relation who discovered two vials of ricin in the patient's room on Thursday, launching a hazardous materials response by authorities.

Metro Police on Friday expanded their investigation into why the vials containing white powder, confirmed by two Nevada laboratories as ricin, and castor beans in a plastic bag were in the man's motel room at Valley View Boulevard and Flamingo Road, just west of the Strip.

Police searched a room Friday at the Excalibur where the 53-year-old man stayed Wednesday night, but after two hours inspecting the room they did not find any traces of ricin, Capt. Joe Lombardo of Metro's Homeland Security Bureau said Friday night.

"I want to assure everybody that the Las Vegas Valley is safe," Lombardo said. "We currently don't have a terrorist threat."

Police revealed new details and a clearer timeline of events at Friday night's media conference.

Lombardo said that on Feb. 22 the 53-year-old man contacted the Extended Stay America Motel manager to tell him that animals were in the room.

The manager called the Humane Society which rescued two cats and a dog, which was later put to sleep from lack of food and water.

The manager returned to the room on Tuesday and discovered guns and an "anarchist-type textbook" with a section written about ricin bookmarked, Lombardo said. The manager called police and authorities seized the firearms and the textbook, he said.

On Thursday the 53-year-old man brought a vial containing ricin to the apartment manager, 13 days after the 57-year-old man called paramedics saying he was having difficulty breathing and had been taken to Spring Valley Hospital on Feb. 14, Metro Police Deputy Chief Kathy Suey said earlier Friday.

Since then, he has been at Spring Valley Hospital in critical condition and unable to speak to investigators about what happened in the motel room, Suey said.

A reporter asked Suey during the interview if the man could be a victim.

"That's possible," she replied at the time.

Suey said that people might try to make ricin just to see if they can, or for revenge or curiosity.

Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, said if a person is exposed to a lethal dose of ricin, death can occur in 36 to 72 hours. However, if someone survives three to five days, recovery is possible with medical treatment.

The laboratory at the Health District, built after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, confirmed that the white powder found in the vials was ricin, a powerful plant toxin made from castor beans that is used in organ transplant cases and cancer treatments, but that can be lethal in doses inhaled, swallowed or injected in amounts that cover the head of a pin and larger.

The Centers for Disease Control's information says that 700 cases of suicides by ricin have been investigated.

For additional information about ricin, including signs, symptoms and treatment, please visit CDC's Web site.

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