- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2008

The discovery of the deadly toxin ricin in a Las Vegas hotel room appears to have no connection to terrorism, police said yesterday.

“There is no information to lead us to believe that this is the result of terrorist activity or related to any terrorist activity,” said Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Kathy Suey at a press conference yesterday.

A vial of ricin powder was found Thursday in an Extended Stay America motel room two weeks after its occupant, a middle-aged man, entered a hospital complaining of breathing problems.

Police said they have been unable to interview the man, whose name was not released, because he remains in a coma in critical condition. The man called the hospital Feb. 14 after having trouble breathing and was admitted the same day.

A friend or relative of the man discovered the vial, wrapped in a plastic bag, while packing his belongings. Hotel management had begun eviction proceedings after the man failed to pay his bill.

Six other persons, all first-responders or hotel employees, were hospitalized Thursday for possible ricin exposure but then released yesterday in good condition, police said.

Ricin has some medical uses, notably in cancer research, but the powerful toxin has been linked in recent years to terrorist groups. Made from castor beans, ricin can kill in amounts as small as 500 mg, or about what it would take to cover the head of a pin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Castor beans were also found in the hotel room, leading to speculation that the man was concocting ricin on his own. Police said they began their investigation yesterday only after securing and decontaminating the motel site.

“Ricin is a poison. It really would take a very deliberate act to manufacture ricin,” said Dr. Lawrence Sands of the Southern Nevada Health District.

Las Vegas police, the Nevada National Guard and Homeland Security are cooperating in the probe.

“Our main concern was the health and safety of the public,” said Chief Suey. “We are continuing with our investigation now to see if there’s anything criminal.”

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