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Police question Edmunds

June 23, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE and KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

laurae@herald-mail.com

kimy@herald-mail.com

A drifter sought in connection with a Utah kidnapping was questioned by authorities at City Hospital in Martinsburg on Saturday and was expected to remain at the hospital several more days, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Bret Michael Edmunds, 26, was listed in serious condition in the hospital's intensive care unit but was conscious and alert, hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe said.

The eight-bed unit, which was closed to other patients for several hours Friday when Edmunds' identity became known, was reopened Friday night after Edmunds was moved into a secured room and placed under guard, McCabe said.

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Edmunds had been sought by authorities for questioning in the June 5 kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City. Hospital personnel became suspicious and alerted authorities sometime after Edmunds checked himself into the hospital early Thursday morning.

The Associated Press has reported he suffered drug-related liver failure. McCabe would not provide specifics about Edmunds' illness, citing confidentiality rules.

Police did not give any details about their questioning.

"He's talking. I don't know to what extent," Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Fred Louis said.

It didn't appear that Edmunds, an unemployed laborer, had a lawyer present during the questioning, Louis said.

One unanswered question was how Edmunds ended up in Martinsburg.

Salt Lake City Police don't know where Edmunds was going prior to his arrival at City Hospital, Louis said. Police believe Edmunds drove himself to the hospital but don't know if he made other stops in the Tri-State area.

A Saturn found in the hospital parking lot was photographed, impounded and towed away. Police saw nothing suspicious through the windows, and are seeking a search warrant.

Louis said Edmunds is not a suspect in the kidnapping but was wanted for questioning because he was seen in the Smart's neighborhood prior to the girl's disappearance. He has been arrested on unrelated charges.

Hospital officials thought on Friday that Edmunds could be returned to Utah Saturday, but the attending physician decided Edmunds should stay at City Hospital for three or four days, McCabe said.

Edmunds is stable, but "we're not sure he's out of the woods," McCabe said.

Edmunds was being guarded by Salt Lake City Police, the FBI, U.S. Marshals and hospital security, she said.

When he is physically able, Edmunds will be taken to a magistrate for a hearing, the marshals service said.

Shortly after the FBI confirmed Edmunds' identity on Friday, the hospital moved three other intensive care patients to other rooms in the hospital and locked Edmunds in the sixth-floor unit with round-the-clock guards.

During that time, the hospital could not accept critically injured patients. McCabe said she did not think any patients had to be diverted to other hospitals.

About a dozen television news trucks, some equipped with satellites, spent Friday night in a roped-off section of the hospital parking lot.

After reporters who had spent the night in area hotels returned Saturday morning, the hospital brought out a table to serve coffee, juice, donuts and bagels.

"We're trying to accommodate," McCabe said. "We know you guys are just trying to do your job."

McCabe, whose day began with a 6:30 a.m. live interview on the "Today" show with weekend news anchor Hoda Kotbe, said she would like to see Edmunds moved out as soon as possible.

"We're a hospital, not a prison facility," she said.

Despite the unusual circumstance, the hospital has been operating relatively normally, she said.

Camera crews positioned themselves outside the hospital's main doors, waiting to capture on film the arrival of FBI agents from Salt Lake City. They also stood outside the rear emergency door and videotaped every ambulance that pulled in.

They photographed anyone who looked official walking into the hospital.

Deborah and Eugene Hunley of Martinsburg were leaving the hospital carrying balloons when they passed through the throng of reporters.

While Eugene Hunley was being treated for a blood clot at the hospital since Tuesday, he said he barely noticed that anything was out of the ordinary.

"I think the hospital's doing a very nice job protecting our patients," said Deborah Hunley, a nurse at the hospital.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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