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Poison victim believes it was accident

March 10, 2007|Charles Proctor | Times Staff Writer

One of the two Los Angeles women who were poisoned with thallium while in Moscow told federal and county health investigators that she believes the poisoning was an accident, a lawyer representing the women said Friday.

Yana Kovalevsky, 26, also told investigators that the only place she and her mother, Marina, met on a regular basis during their stay in Moscow was the Marriott Hotel near Red Square. Yana said the two had breakfast there nearly every day, though she was not certain that was where the poisoning occurred, said Frank Capwell, the Kovalevskys' lawyer.

Officials with the FBI and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health interviewed Yana on Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where the two were listed in stable condition. Investigators did not interview Marina because she was asleep at the time, Capwell said.

Capwell said the Kovalevskys had no plans to file a lawsuit, though they might explore that possibility in the future.

"We're concentrating on their recovery before we even approach whether a civil remedy will be sought," he said.

The hospital has set no release date for the Kovalevskys. Capwell said doctors expect them to make a full recovery in about a month.

Also Friday, doctors at Cedars-Sinai confirmed that the Kovalevskys were poisoned with thallium, a toxic metal used as a catalyst in certain metal alloys, optical lenses, jewelry and semiconductors, as well as in dyes and pigments.

Thallium compounds are also found in rat poison and insecticides.

Experts say thallium can cause gastrointestinal irritation, paralysis, loss of vision, and heart and liver problems. Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator, was known to use thallium against his enemies.

Friends and relatives have been at a loss to explain why Yana and Marina, a well-known physician in Los Angeles' Russian community, would have been poisoned. They say the two are not involved in politics and had previously traveled to Moscow without incident.

Leon Peck, Marina's brother, who flew to Moscow late last week to bring the two home, said he believed the "only sane and logical explanation" was that the women had been mistakenly targeted in an intentional poisoning, especially because it is so difficult to acquire thallium.

"My feeling is that it was an accident in that they were mistaken for someone else," he said. "You cannot get thallium anywhere. My feeling is that it is impossible to find it."

Peck said the Kovalevskys "couldn't be targets for anything. Who would like to kill them?"

The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the Kovalevsky case in conjunction with Moscow police and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The Kovalevskys traveled to Moscow in mid-February to attend the 50th birthday party of one of Marina's friends.

About a week into their trip, the two began to experience headaches, stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath and excruciating pain, friends and relatives said. They were admitted to a poison treatment institute in Moscow, where doctors concluded they had ingested thallium.

Capwell said Yana found the conditions at the institute to be "deplorable." Yana told investigators the doctors did not have the proper medications and did not use anesthesia during procedures.

Peck, a Beverly Hills oral surgeon, purchased about $2,000 worth of Prussian Blue, an antidote to thallium poisoning, from a Santa Ana pharmacist and flew to Moscow late last week to administer it himself.

Peck and the Kovalevskys arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, and ambulances took the mother and daughter to the critical-care unit at Cedars-Sinai.

charles.proctor@latimes.com

Times staff writers Paul Pringle and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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