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Test results awaited in W.Va. death probe

August 27, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -Determining whether E. coli contamination contributed to the death of an Inwood woman last week may depend on what grows in a petri dish over the next couple of days.

A state laboratory began culturing samples from a package of Hudson Foods hamburger patties and the body of Roxann Pearrell on Tuesday, said Twila Carr, an environmental health supervisor with the Berkeley County Health Department.

Preliminary test results from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources are not expected until Thursday, Carr said.

The testing is being done at the state Hygienic Laboratory in Charleston, according to Carr. Other samples have been sent to a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Georgia, she added.

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Pearrell, 34, was found dead in her mobile home by neighbors Aug. 20. An autopsy indicated she died of a heart attack and that there was no evidence of a gastrointestinal illness.

Her mother and the neighbors who found the body, however, said Pearrell had been suffering from cramping, nausea and was spitting up blood in the days before she died.

The package of hamburger patties taken from Pearrell's home for testing was processed by the Columbus, Neb., company in April.

Some hamburger processed at the plant in June was found to be contaminated by a specific strain of E. coli bacteria that made a number of people sick. The result was a recent recall of 25 million pounds of the product.

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