W.Va. woman's body tested for E. coli

August 26, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State health officials don't believe the death of an Inwood woman last week was related to food poisoning from tainted hamburger, but Hudson Foods hamburger patties were confiscated from her home and friends and relatives believe there is a connection.

"She died of a massive coronary. She had extensive coronary artery disease and didn't know it," Berkeley County Coroner Sandra Brining said of Roxann Pearrell.

Brining said the autopsy of the 34-year-old woman, who was discovered dead in her Harranda Trailer Park home last Wednesday, showed no gastrointestinal illness. The autopsy was performed Friday in Morgantown by Dr. James Frost, a deputy state medical examiner.


Tests are being done on the meat - which did not come from the same lot recalled - and samples taken from Pearrell's body to determine if a specific strain of the E. coli bacteria is present.

Despite the conclusion of the autopsy, Pearrell's mother believes the hamburger taken from her daughter's freezer contributed to her death. Roxann Pearrell's funeral was Monday.

"I feel she was slowly poisoned to death and didn't know it," said Rebecca Dunlap of Charles Town. The mother said she believed Pearrell bought the patties last month in Hagerstown.

"I talked to her Sunday night and she told me she'd been deathly sick all day," Dunlap recalled of her last conversation with her daughter. Pearrell told her she had been spitting up blood, having cramps and diarrhea.

Dunlap told her to see a doctor, but she said Pearrell probably didn't because she had no medical insurance. "She just thought it would be another bill, so she put it off," she said.

"We took custody of the meat. We are doing cultures on the meat and cultures on her," Brining explained. Those tests should reveal if the specific strain of E. coli bacteria involved in the Hudson Foods recall was present in either the hamburger or the woman's body.

"Her hamburgers were processed in April and the hamburgers that were recalled were processed in June," Brining said. The Columbus, Neb., company had to recall 25 million pounds of hamburger after the bacteria was discovered in some of its products.

The recall caused one major Hudson customer, Burger King, to stop serving hamburgers at several hundred of its Midwest stores until Sunday.

While everyone has E. coli in their digestive tract, Brining said the strain found in Hudson meats is different. The cultures grow in about a week, but it might be two weeks or more before a report is issued. Brining said the West Virginia Department of Health and Berkeley County Health Department are treating the case just as any other case of suspected food poisoning.

A health department bulletin written Friday also indicated that gastrointestinal disease "was neither the cause of nor a contributing factor to her death." The bulletin said the cause of Pearrell's gastrointestinal illness had not been determined and was under investigation.

Neighbor Tony Fogel said Pearrell had been having stomach problems for "about three weeks or so. For a day or two she'd be fine and then it would come back."

Pearrell told Fogel and his wife Belinda she thought she had a stomach virus or an ulcer. "We advised her to go to a doctor, but she said she had to go back to work," he recalled.

The Hudson recall began about a week before Pearrell's death and Fogel said, "my wife mentioned something about it to her." While Pearrell had given them about a dozen patties, they had not eaten any. The county health department took them for testing, he said.

"I spoke with Roxann myself at eight after six" Wednesday evening, he said. She wanted his wife to call her back later. Belinda Fogel called at about 8:30 p.m. and got the answering machine. At about 10 p.m. she went over and found Pearrell's body.

A former EMT, Tony Fogel and another neighbor performed CPR on Pearrell until an ambulance arrived.

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