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3 dead after eating wild mushrooms at family lunch in Australia; woman under investigation

Philly Poison Control Center warns not to eat wild mushrooms
Philly Poison Control Center warns not to eat wild mushrooms 02:14

Australian police on Wednesday were trying to figure out how three people died and a fourth became critically ill after apparently eating wild mushrooms at a family lunch.

Homicide detectives have been investigating the case. Police have interviewed the woman, identified by the BBC as Erin Patterson, who they say cooked the meal at her home on July 29 but didn't become ill herself. Police released her without filing any charges but say she remains a suspect.

Patterson told media outside her home in the town of Leongatha, in Victoria state, that she didn't know what had happened.

"I didn't do anything," she told Network Nine on Monday. "I loved them and I'm devastated they're gone."

Patterson declined to answer questions about what meals were served to which guests or the origin of the mushrooms.

Victoria Police Det. Inspector Dean Thomas said it wasn't clear what type of mushrooms the guests had eaten, but their symptoms were consistent with those from a death cap, a particularly deadly variety.

Tom May, a principal research scientist mycology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, inspects death cap and ghost fungus mushrooms in 2021. WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images

He said it would take some time to determine what happened and police were keeping an open mind.

"It could be very innocent but, again, we just don't know," Thomas said.

Patterson had been hosting her in-laws, Gail and Don Patterson, both aged 70. Both died at area hospitals. Also at the lunch were Gail Patterson's sister Heather Wilkinson, 66, who died, and husband Ian Wilkinson, 68, a Baptist pastor. He remains in a critical condition in hospital, awaiting a liver transplant, BBC News reported.

Thomas said the woman who cooked the meal was separated from her husband but police had been told their relationship was amicable. Her children were also at home during the lunch but did not eat the same meal, police said.

Detectives searched the woman's home on Saturday and took several items. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that police were also conducting forensic tests on a food dehydrator they had found at a nearby landfill to see if it was linked to the case.

News of the incident has shaken the community.

"No-one would ever expect that to happen here," the regional mayor Nathan Hersey told the BBC. "Who in their right mind would expect that they would lose... people who contribute and give so much... in such a way?"

Death caps are found in cool, humid climates all over the world, and are responsible for 90% of lethal mushroom poisoning globally, the BBC reported. In 2020, a spate of poisonings in Victoria killed one persion and hospitalized seven others.

Authorities urged people not to eat wild mushrooms they have foraged, the BBC reported.

"If you haven't purchased them from a supermarket, perhaps stay clear of them," Detective Thomas said.

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