California Mushrooms Used to Make Deadly Soup Came from Backyard

A lush backyard of Northern California assisted living facility Gold Age Villa has turned out to be the source of the toxic wild mushrooms a caretaker made into a soup and fed to residents, killing two women and sickening four.

Sheriff’s investigators pinpointed the soup as the source of the poisonings because only one person living at the home, said Lt. Mark Reed, did not eat dinner that night and did not fall ill.

“She didn’t eat it,” said Reed. “They said she was an ornery lady and didn’t want to eat.”

The caretaker had no idea the mushrooms that had sprouted after recent rains were toxic, law officials said Tuesday. She was among the four others who were hospitalized Friday after six people ate the toxic soup Thursday night.

“The caretaker just didn’t know, and she went outside and picked these mushrooms and made dinner, and she ate some of it herself,” said Reed. “It’s definitely a sad, sad thing.”

In Northern California, it is the season for wild chanterelle mushrooms, a highly sought variety, as well as the amanita species of mushrooms, which include the self-explanatory “death cap” and “death angel” varieties. Young poisonous amanitas often look like an edible version of a wild mushroom popular in Asia.

The California Department of Public Health periodically issues warnings about consumption of wild mushrooms. The state recorded 1,700 cases of mushroom-related illnesses from 2009 to 2010, including two deaths.

Sheriff’s officials are calling the deaths of Barbara Lopes, 86, and Teresa Olesniewicz, 73, an accident. Family members told News10 that Olesniewicz was aware she had been poisoned before she died.

The family that owns the senior care facility issued a statement expressing grief over the situation.

“We are asking God to comfort all of our residents and their loved ones through the difficulty of this unintentional tragic event,” said Michael Borisov, the son-in-law of the care home’s owners. “Some of you have been a part of our family for years, and all of you are very dear to us. We are grieving with you and our prayers are for you.”

Investigators said the woman who prepared the soup is an immigrant, but they were unsure how recently she had come to the U.S.

“She just thought it was OK to use them,” said Reed. “I don’t know how long she has been in the country.”

The Gold Age Villa website notes its special diets and homemade meals for residents. It has been run by owner Raisa Oselsky since March 2007.

An investigation is ongoing.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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