posted 12-11-2002 06:01 PM
This is scary, can't help but wonder if a little experimenting is going on here.
12-08, Local: Officials seek cause of three local deaths
By PATRINA A. BOSTIC
A Gregg County justice of the peace says local officials will likely have to wait until January before they get a better idea of what caused the deaths of three East Texas women who became ill and died over a span of nine days after experiencing similar symptoms late last month.
Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace B.H. Jameson requested autopsies for all three — including a teen and two women in their 40s — after they each died within 16 to 42 hours of becoming ill.
Preliminary autopsy reports from the Dallas Medical Examiner's office came back inconclusive on all three women, and final reports are pending microscopic examinations, Jameson said. He said it would be mid-January before final autopsy reports are returned.
The deceased women are Ashley Taylor, 17, of Longview, who died Nov. 30; Cheryl K. Bothwell, 42, of rural Longview who was pronounced dead Nov. 25; and Debra Ann Davis-Rust, 43, of Gilmer, who died Nov. 21.
Family members of all three women said they thought the victims had a typical, winter-season virus, displaying symptoms including vomiting, stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, chills, sweating, fever and diarrhea.
All three were pronounced dead at Good Shepherd Medical Center and, as part of the disease surveillance process in East Texas, their medical charts were forwarded to the Texas Department of Health office in Tyler where an epidemiologist and a physician have analyzed the records.
"At this particular time, based on the information we have, there doesn't appear to be any public health issue," said Dr. Paul McGaha, regional director for TDH in Tyler.
McGaha said Thursday that there had been no other patient charts forwarded to TDH with similarities to those of the dead women.
He said it is TDH’s responsibility to inform the public of any health risks, but at this time none have been determined. He said there have been no reports of the Hong Kong strain of influenza type B in Gregg County. That virus was identified as the suspected cause behind massive absences last month at the Winona Independent School District in Smith County.
Good Shepherd officials say there was an increase in the past month of people coming to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, but they said the increase is no more than is normal for this time of year.
Medical officials often warn that the elderly or people with other illnesses are most at risk of dying from viruses, but the families of the local women all say they were healthy, rarely becoming ill before they died.
Taylor died Nov. 30, within 42 hours after feeling ill.
Cindy Taylor, her mother, said she thought the teen had a stomach virus when she woke up between 4 and 5 a.m. Nov. 29 (the day after Thanksgiving) complaining of stomach cramps and vomiting twice within eight hours. Her mother poured her cups of 7Up, but couldn't get her to eat much.
She said her daughter, a former Spring Hill student who was being home-schooled this school year, stayed in bed the entire day, only rising to go to the bathroom. Cindy Taylor said she looked in on her daughter regularly.
The next morning, Ashley arose and told her mother that she was feeling a tad better and was going to take a shower. Her mother prepared her chicken soup and 7Up and her father, Jack Taylor, asked Ashley if she wanted to go to the doctor.
Jack and Cindy Taylor drove to Dallas that day, and when they returned at about 8:30 p.m., Ashley's condition had worsened, her mother said.
Ashley eventually "broke into a real cold, cold clammy sweat and turned a grey color," Cindy Taylor said.
"That look was totally unreal. I'm telling you that face will haunt us for the rest of our life."
Then Ashley began to gasp for air and suddenly stopped breathing. A few pats on the back brought her back, her mother said, but she continued gasping. Her parents called 911 and her father, unnerved, ran through the trailer park where they live, shouting for his neighbors to help.
Ashley arrived at Good Shepherd Medical Center at 9:51 p.m., according to hospital records and she was pronounced dead at about 10 p.m., Jameson said.
Her mother said she believed the child was dead when she arrived at the hospital. It had been just 42 hours since Ashley had taken ill, her mother said.
"It was the worst nightmare," her mother said. "Now we realize that we lost her right here in this home and didn't really realize it."
"I know that they need to give me some answers to this, or I will never be able to rest. I'm just praying that the autopsy can give us some answers," Cindy Taylor said.
"It never clicked in my mind that I was losing my daughter to a stomach virus," she said. "If I had known this could lead to this, as soon as she said ‘I have a stomach ache,’ I would have had her to the doctor."
Ashley already had purchased and wrapped Christmas gifts for her parents, and her mother recalls the smile on her face and her joyful eyes the day she mentioned that she was going shopping for those gifts. Her mother said it's going to take a long time before they will be able to open the presents.
Ashley's mother said she had a bubbly personality, and if you met her once, you had a friend forever.
The family says the four to six weeks that they have to wait on the autopsy results seem like an eternity.
Jameson said at the Dallas lab, they are growing and studying cultures from the women.
"They are suspicious deaths,” he said, "which is why autopsies have been ordered. But it could all just be a coincidence. We don't know yet.”
Jameson said it is more common for the elderly to die after becoming ill with symptoms such as Ashley had.
Debra Ann Davis-Rust
Rust died Nov. 21 within 16 hours after feeling ill.
Rust, retired as a teller from Texas Federal Credit Union, started feeling ill Thursday, Nov. 21, when she woke at 2 a.m., shaking with chills and a fever of 102 degrees, said her husband, Ronald Rust. By 8 a.m., her temperature had dropped to 96 degrees.
She felt better and rose to take a shower and even did a load of laundry.
Then she laid down again because she felt sick to her stomach and had diarrhea, her husband said.
Ronald Rust said he phoned a pharmacist who told the worried husband that it sounded like his wife simply had the flu.
Rust picked up medicine for his wife, but at about 5:30 p.m. when she tried to take the medicine, she couldn't put the pills in her mouth because her hands had become numb. So had her feet. So Ronald Rust helped her swallow the pills and went into another room to look for a phone number for Good Shepherd Medical Center.
As he searched, he called Debra's name to make sure she was OK, and she didn't respond. He ran to the bedroom to check on his wife and she wasn't breathing. He called 911 and started CPR.
But it was too late. He said she was gone by the time help arrived.
"She was dead when she left here. I knew it," her husband said. "I still have no idea what's going on. Everybody is wondering.
"People want to know what is going on," he said. "It's just like she closed her eyes and went to sleep."
The couple would have celebrated their 21st anniversary in January.
Ronald Rust said his wife never got sick. As for her personality, she had a heart for people, he said.
"Everybody loved her," he said. "She never met a stranger."
He said he and his wife recently had retired and had a mobile camper and frequently visited the coast.
They were preparing to go to Port Aransas, where they would stay for three months, fishing and enjoying nature, he said.
His wife loved this time of the year, when the leaves turned bright red and orange.
"She thought they were so beautiful," he said.
Cheryl K. Bothwell
Bothwell died within 30 hours after feeling ill.
She, like Taylor, also had difficulty breathing just before she died.
Bothwell, who lived near Lake Cherokee, started feeling ill Thursday, Nov. 21, said her father-in-law, Richard Bothwell Sr.
Dicky Bothwell, her husband, was not able to talk about his wife yet, his father said this week. It was just too difficult.
Cheryl Bothwell had left her job of 14 years at Kilgore College about a year ago to become the office manager for the home inspection business started by her husband.
Dicky's father tried to recount as best he could his son's story about his wife's illness.
Richard Bothwell Sr. said his daughter-in-law woke up Nov. 22 having difficulty breathing.
"She said, ‘Dicky call the ambulance, I can't breathe,’ ” her father-in-law said.
By the time she arrived at Good Shepherd Medical Center emergency room at 7:55 a.m., she could not be saved, her father-in-law said.
But the hospital kept her on a ventilator for three days because the family had agreed to donate her lungs.
But when an autopsy was ordered, it canceled that process, and she was taken off the ventilator. Jameson then officially pronounced her dead at 10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25.
"She was probably dead by the time they got her to the hospital," her father-in-law said.
Richard Bothwell said the weight of her lungs collapsing stopped her heart from beating.
A former schoolmate says Bothwell was a compassionate person.
Upon hearing of her friend's death, a woman who attended the first grade with Bothwell contacted Cheryl's parents in tears and told them she needed to share a story.
The two women had attended the first grade together during the first days of integration.
The woman, who is black, told Bothwell's parents that their daughter was the only white child who would talk to her, make her feel comfortable and who had become her friend.
Richard Bothwell said Cheryl's father told him about the story.
"That's something to remember that from the first grade, but that's the kind of impression she made on people," her father-in-law said. "She touched our lives and a lot more people besides us."
Email this page to a friend
By using this service you accept the terms of our Visitor Agreement.
Registered site users, to edit your personal profile, click here.
© 2002 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
The Longview News-Journal and Cox Interactive Media