- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

The mystery surrounding a man hospitalized after possible exposure to the deadly chemical ricin may now be solved after he regained consciousness and spoke for the first time yesterday to authorities.

Roger Bergendorff, 57, was lying comatose in a Las Vegas hospital when police discovered Feb. 28 several vials of ricin powder in his motel room. He had entered the hospital on Valentine’s Day after calling 911 with trouble breathing.

FBI Special Agent David Staretz said that agents were interviewing Mr. Bergendorff, who remained in critical condition at Spring Valley Hospital.

“His health is improving and investigators have spoken to him,” said Mr. Staretz, an FBI spokesman for the Las Vegas office. “Due to the pending investigation, we’re not going to release any further information at this time.”

The ricin discovery raised alarms about the possibility of a terrorist threat, but a Nevada homeland security official reiterated yesterday that no such connection had been found.

“It is our understanding that there is no established link to any terrorist organization or terrorism at this time,” said Rick Eaton, Nevada state homeland security director. “We defer to Las Vegas police and the FBI concerning the details of this case.”

Mr. Bergendorff had been living in an Extended Stay America motel off the Las Vegas Strip when he was apparently exposed to ricin. Derived from castor beans, ricin is considered a “biological weapon” and has no legal use apart from cancer research.

Police also found castor beans in the room, as well as several firearms and a copy of an anarchist’s textbook tabbed to a chapter on ricin.

Erich Bergendorff of Escondido, Calif., told the Associated Press that his brother Roger was moved Wednesday from the hospital’s intensive-care to the intermediate-care ward. He also said his brother was receiving dialysis for failing kidneys.

A cousin, Tom Tholen of Riverton, Utah, found the ricin vials when he went to the motel room to pack Mr. Bergendorff’s belongings. The motel’s management had evicted Mr. Bergendorff after he failed to pay his bill for two weeks.

Authorities found no evidence of ricin contamination anywhere else, even after testing the motel room, the management office, Mr. Tholen’s motel room, and a half-dozen motel employees and police officers for exposure.

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