Man in ricin case awakes

March 14, 2008 1:22:46 PM PDT
A man who may have been exposed to toxic ricin in his motel room a month ago has regained consciousness and was speaking with investigators, authorities said Friday. Roger Bergendorff, 57, remained in critical condition in a hospital, where he has been since Feb. 14. Several vials of ricin powder were found in his room two weeks later.

Investigators were speaking with Bergendorff for the first time, said Special Agent David Staretz, an FBI spokesman. Neither he nor Las Vegas police would provide more information.

Authorities hope Bergendorff can provide information about the discovery of the deadly powder, along with castor beans from which it is derived, at an extended stay motel where he had been living several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip.

Officials insist they've found no contamination anywhere, and no link to terrorism, but they consider ricin a "biological weapon."

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

Authorities suspect Bergendorff was exposed to ricin, and experts have said his symptoms appeared consistent with ricin exposure. The poison breaks down in the body within days, however, making it difficult to trace.

Before Friday authorities had variously described Bergendorff as comatose and unconscious. Family members said he was sedated when they visited him Feb. 23.

A younger brother, Erich Bergendorff of Escondido, Calif., said Roger Bergendorff was moved Wednesday from intensive to intermediate care in the critical ward of Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center.

Erich Bergendorff said his brother was receiving dialysis for failing kidneys, and might still be on a ventilator to help him breathe.


Associated Press writer Allison Hoffman in San Diego contributed to this report.