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Woman's Body Held While Fume Probe Continues : Investigation: Riverside County officials have said they will release Gloria Ramirez for burial if her family agrees not to unseal the coffin. Her relatives have refused to agree to the condition.

April 12, 1994|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIVERSIDE — County health officials hope to decide this week whether to loosen restrictions on the release of the body of Gloria Ramirez, whose death in February is central to the investigation of the still unexplained fumes that felled attendants of a hospital emergency room.

Officials have said they would release the body for burial if the woman's family agreed not to open the sealed coffin. They said there are still unanswered questions about whether her body was the source of the fumes that sickened a half dozen people at Riverside General Hospital's emergency room.

But Riverside County spokesman Tom DeSantis said Monday that medical and scientific experts this week will analyze what has been learned so far in the investigation. "We're hopeful the analysis will shed enough light on this case where our public health officer can make a final review on the conditions (for the body's release) and determine whether they should remain in place," he said.

Attorneys for the Ramirez family asked for the release of her body last month, but refused to accept the county's condition that the coffin remain unopened--prohibiting the family even from confirming that the woman's body was inside.

Because of the family's protest, the county last week filed a lawsuit, seeking a court order to back its position. A hearing was set for Wednesday.

But on Monday--with Ramirez family attorneys ready to take depositions from Riverside County coroner's office staff about what had been learned in the investigation--the county dropped the lawsuit, effectively stopping the depositions before they began.

"We absolutely think the county is trying to protect itself, hide something, or is manipulating data," said Ron Schwartz, attorney for the Ramirez family. "The family was hoping to learn something (Monday) about the investigation through the depositions, and now we've lost that opportunity."

DeSantis said the county dropped the lawsuit seeking the court's support of the burial conditions because "we hope by Thursday to know a lot more about this case than we know today," making the need for a lawsuit moot.

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