Coroner unable to find cause of body's fumes

April 30, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Concluding the most sensational medical investigation in local history, the Riverside County coroner's office announced yesterday that Gloria Ramirez died from kidney failure as a result of cervical cancer -- and that the fumes that sickened the emergency room staff tending her probably were simply the smell of death.

Chief Deputy County Coroner Dan Cupido said no "external toxins" were found in her body, after an unprecedented autopsy and follow-up testing by some of the most prestigious government medical and science laboratories in the country.

The coroner's office itself had speculated earlier that, given the bizarre events surrounding her death, Ms. Ramirez died of other than natural causes. But yesterday County Coroner Scotty Hill said she died of natural causes after all.

The specific cause of death, he said, was "cardiac dysrhythmia due to acute renal failure due to cervical carcinoma."

Dr. Hill said his investigators did not specifically set out to try to find the source or nature of the fumes that sickened the hospital staff, and he said yesterday, "I don't know if we'll ever have that answer."

But he did rule out the possibility that Ms. Ramirez, wittingly or otherwise, may have been poisoned by a toxic substance that might then contaminated those who tried to keep her alive.

"Exhaustive toxicological studies have not identified any external toxic substances that would have contributed to her death," Dr. Hill said.

Dr. Cupido said the so-called mystery fumes were most likely the residues of a dying person.

Some of the staff treating Ms. Ramirez said the woman's blood, drawn into a syringe, smelled of ammonia. Dr. Cupido said that odor was consistent with "the chemical changes that may occur during a person's dying process, in relation to some of the anatomic findings we found."

The fact that such odors could be so strong as to affect so many medical personnel so extensively may be unprecedented, Dr. Hill acknowledged.

David Garcia, a brother-in-law of Gloria Ramirez and spokesman for the family, said he did not believe the coroner's conclusions. "This serves their purpose, so the county won't be responsible for whatever happened to Gloria," he said. "This is a travesty of justice."

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