Family members of the four Coolie Town residents who died after ingesting a suspected rum-like toxic substance earlier this month may have to wait a bit longer than expected for post mortem results – and to bury their relatives.
The reason for the holdup is that the samples from the post mortem have been sent overseas for testing because the Saint Lucia Forensic Lab, which was reopened just over one year ago, is not yet accredited to handle such cases, according to Minister for Home Affairs, Justice and National Security, Hermangild Francis.
Speaking to reporters recently, Francis said the results from the post mortem examinations should be ready in two weeks.
“It is not that the lab cannot do it, but you must look at accreditation and so on, and our lab has not been accredited as yet. So we are in the process of working towards accreditation and that is the reason that we still have to send our samples overseas. What is more important is the collection of evidence and the storage of evidence and the sending over is done professionally and so far we have been doing that,” he told reporters.
Relatives of the deceased persons said they were informed byy health and law enforcement officials that the samples from the post mortem were sent overseas for testing and would take two weeks.
Three males and one female died after ingesting the substance at a funeral.
Greneta Henry, sister of the deceased, told DBS: “What I have to say is we had a meeting with the people already. They had call us to come down in town, in the hospital, Tapion office, I don’t know if is his office or something, 10:30. When we go there, all of us was there. They tell us, they cannot give us a reason yet, so they send the test, they send the thing and take a test overseas to get, to know what really happen and then they going to call us to talk to us. But from now on, we doh get no result yet. We cannot say nothing yet. Is the doctors and the police that doing their job to tell us. When they ready to let us know, they will let us know what happen.”
Meanwhile, health and law enforcement officials continue to investigate the incident. The priority is to identity the substance.
Updating the media on the investigations recently, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Merlene Fredericks, told the media: “The preliminary investigation suggests that the substance wasn’t only used at a particular event, that it may have been sold to certain bars in the area. This is of serious concern to us. We were able to have a discussion with one or two of the bar owners who admitted that a particular individual came and offered some substance to them. Some say they accepted it and then threw it away afterwards.”
In a subsequent press release, Dr. Frederick added: “At this point in time we can’t speak to absolutely what this sample is but we can say that it was a clear colorless liquid resembling water or strong rum. The Ministry accepted the sample and passed it on to the relevant authorities for further testing and verification. We would like to remind persons that we are still addressing and investigating this incident, a rather unusual incident in which as we indicated previously four persons have perished as a result of this. We believe that there is a toxin out there and we’re encouraging persons, should anyone come into contact with the substance or have any sample of it either bring it to us so that we can pass it on to the authorities for testing or dispose of it properly. Ensure that you pour it into the ground and that it disappears, do not throw away a container containing the substance, just should someone else pick it up and ingest it.”
Police Inspector Leroy Charles said law enforcement officials have been working “hand-in-hand” with the Ministry of Health.
“We would like the persons out there to know that our first priority right now is not basically looking at any arrest, but working so that we can identify what’s that substance out there that has been used, that has been causing those deaths. So like I said, our first priority is to find out about the substance, and any persons who has information out there, is to come to the police. We are encouraging you to come to the police because our concern is more of health at this moment,” Charles said.