Woman who died in Calif. mystery-fumes case is buried after 2 months

April 21, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Gloria Ramirez, who lived in relative obscurity but in death became the focus of a sensational medical mystery that catapulted her to the front page and the top of the evening news, was finally laid to rest yesterday.

The comforting prayers, the cathartic tears, the symbolic release of balloons into the gray morning sky, came two months after her death. Since Feb. 19, her family's grief has been interwoven with anger and frustration. For weeks they have been unable to gain information about the cause of death of the 31-year-old mother of two. For weeks they listened to explanations that blamed Ms. Ramirez for the mystery fumes that felled six emergency room attendants who tended to her the night she died at Riverside General Hospital.

But at the funeral yesterday and a memorial Tuesday night, the time had finally come for family and friends to say goodbye.

The Rev. Brian Taylor read from Paul's letter to the Corinthians to those gathered for the memorial Tuesday. He read from the 23rd Psalm and reflected on John's Gospel. He talked of how Gloria Ramirez was a friend to all, quick to smile, a carefree jokester who brought comfort and joy to others.

And, even though medical authorities have not yet concluded how Ms. Ramirez died or whether she was the source of the so-called mystery fumes, Father Taylor referred to "that bizarre, tragic incident in the hospital emergency room that took her life." The hospital, he said, "is likely to blame for the toxic fumes that took her life."

He scolded Riverside County for failing to share results of its investigation into her death with the family and for the handling of her body -- which county officials did not release for burial until last weekend.

County officials have called Ms. Ramirez's death the most baffling in local history but have said they will disclose their findings by the end of the month. A county spokesman has said the hospital is not believed to be the source of the fumes.

Ms. Ramirez, who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer six weeks earlier, was rushed to the hospital Feb. 19 complaining of breathing difficulties and nausea. Even as one doctor tried unsuccessfully to keep her alive as her body went into cardiac distress, six other emergency room attendants grew dizzy or collapsed after several complained that blood drawn from Ms. Ramirez into a syringe smelled foul.

In an extraordinary autopsy a week later, pathologists wore fully enclosed protective suits and worked in a specially built room. Until last week, county officials have said her casket could not be opened unless similar precautions were taken.

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