Man in Critical Condition After Ricin Found in Room at Vegas Motel

By: Ken Ritter AP
By: Ken Ritter AP

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Police said Friday they found a substance that tests indicate is the deadly toxin ricin at a motel where a man had been living before he was hospitalized in critical condition earlier this month.

There was no indication of any link to terrorist activity, Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Kathy Suey told a press conference.

Police said it was not known if the substance belonged to the sick man and he was not currently a suspect. Suey said the man, believed to be in his 40s or 50s, was unconscious and unable to speak. Earlier, Lt. Lewis Roberts said the man was comatose.

The man was admitted in critical condition on Feb. 14, said Spring Valley Hospital spokeswoman Naomi Jones.

"The patient who has been exposed is not contagious to anyone else, as ricin has to be injected, ingested or inhaled. We are following the universal blood-borne pathogen protocols and cooperating with investigators at this time," Jones said.

Jones said the hospital was not shut down and people there were
not at risk of exposure.

The man was hospitalized after making an emergency call for help
because of breathing problems, Suey said.

The investigation of the apparent ricin didn't begin until Thursday, after another man brought a vial found in his room to the motel manager and police were ultimately called to the Extended Stay America Motel several blocks west of the Las Vegas Strip.

Officials said the vial was in a plastic bag, and castor beans also were found in the room.

Ricin is made from processing castor beans, and can be extremely lethal. As little as 500 micrograms, or about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"We did get a positive result from both the public health office and our civil support team that it did come back positive as ricin," Suey said.

"During our investigation we did find that there was a subject who had been a previous occupant of that hotel room who is currently hospitalized in critical condition here locally as a possible result of exposure to ricin," Suey said.

"There is no information to lead us to believe that this is the result of any terrorist activity or related to any possible terrorist activity," she said.

"We don't even know that it was him that was in possession of the ricin."

Seven other people including the motel manager and some police officers were taken to hospitals for examination but none have shown any signs of being affected by ricin, Suey said.

The motel room had been unoccupied for the past week. Someone who knew the sick man found the ricin in the room and brought it to the apartment manager, Suey said.

"He claimed to be a relative. We haven't confirmed that yet whether he is a relative or a friend," she said.

The manager had begun an eviction because the sick man hadn't paid his bill, and the friend or relative had gone to retrieve his items, she said.

Police said they had spent 12 hours on containing and cleaning up the site.

"My understanding is cleanup has been done. There should not be a threat to anybody at this time," said Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District.

Suey said there were several pets in the room when officers arrived. A dog was found dead but the animal had gone at least a week without food or water, Suey said, and she did not attribute the death to ricin.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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