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Utah woman remains critical after suicide-by-ricin attempt

Published October 4, 2013 10:46 am

Investigation • Motive unclear, but North Logan woman reportedly had health, mental woes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A 37-year-old North Logan woman remained in critical condition on Friday, her prognosis uncertain after she attempted suicide by ingesting the deadly toxin ricin.

North Park Police Chief Kim Hawkes, noting that there is no known, direct cure for ricin poisoning, said the woman's fate would likely be a waiting game — one depending on how much of the toxin she absorbed.

"Right now, we just don't know much. We certainly hope she recovers from this," Hawkes said Friday.

The woman reportedly remained conscious and was talking to police after authorities learned of the suicide attempt late Wednesday night. But she was considered to be in critical condition. A fatal dose of ricin can take several days to act, preceded by severe nausea and diarrhea and ending with fatal episodes of shock due to multiple organ failure.

Hawkes said a family of four living in a level of the North Logan house upstairs from the basement apartment of the woman was cleared to return late Thursday.

"The upper level of the house was cleared by an environmental sweep that was negative for ricin, so the family was allowed to return," Hawkes said.

However, the woman's basement apartment, where "a trace of ricin" was confirmed by Utah Air and Army National Guard's 85th Civil Support Team hazardous materials workers, has been sealed pending an extensive, future decontamination effort overseen by the Bear River Health Department.

Production of ricin violates federal law, but it remained unclear if the woman — should she survive — would be prosecuted. After all, Hawkes said, it seemed clear that the woman's intention was to kill herself, not spread the deadly toxin to others.

The incident began Wednesday at about 10:30 p.m. when an out-of-state cousin of the woman called North Park police, who serve North Logan and neighboring Hyde Park. She had become concerned after a series of texts and at least one phone call revealed the suicide attempt.

Police said the woman had ordered 60 castor beans online, soaked and apparently ground them and ate half of them. Ricin, which acts at the cellular level to inhibit protein synthesis, is contained inside the seeds of the beans.

Hawkes said the woman's motive for suicide remained under investigation. However, a neighbor, Nancy Jensen, said she understood the woman has suffered from back trouble and mental health issues.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims