Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A new theory in mysterious deaths of Cuban mental patients

A mental patient at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital wears a South Park t-shirt

Cuban authorities are investigating the tragic deaths of at least 26 patients at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital. They say the deaths appear to be related to record cold weather earlier this month. And they say chronic disease and "natural biological deterioration" may have contributed to some of the deaths.
A friend of mine who does humanitarian work in Cuba has another theory: Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. He wrote:
I read about 24 people dying in a psychiatric hospital due to "exposure" aka hypothermia. I do not believe it! I have been investigating deaths for 30 years. I suspect the true cause of the deaths was that somebody lit up a poorly functioning heater and there was carbon monoxide in high enough levels to kill these people...happens all the time...
I suspect the psychiatrists did not consider the Carbon Monoxide poisoning possibility and the lab at the psych hospital probably can not even test for CO.
It is an intriguing theory. Carbon monoxide poisoning is not always the first cause of death that occurs to investigators. In December 1990, 12 people who were taking part in a bizarre ritual turned up dead in a home in Tijuana, Mexico. I rushed to the scene and covered the story for the Orange County Register, based in Santa Ana, Calif.
Some people suspected murder or suicide in the Tijuana case, but the cause turned out to be carbon monoxide poisoning. The New York Times story about that tragedy is here.

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