Pesticide-laced soda kills 1 woman, hospitalizes 5

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Pesticide-laced soda kills 1 woman, hospitalizes 5

One of six elderly women, found unconscious on Tuesday after drinking pesticide-laced soda, died while being treated at a local hospital, authorities said.

The woman, surnamed Jeong, 86, died at about 7:10 a.m. on Wednesday at a hospital in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang. Of the remaining five, two have regained consciousness, while three others remain unconscious.

On Tuesday afternoon, a local resident living in a village in Sangju, North Gyeongsang, called an ambulance after finding the six women unconscious at a village hall.

The group reportedly drank from a 1.5 liter (1.5 quart) bottle of soda, unaware it was tainted.

“They lost consciousness after complaining that they had stomach aches,” a woman at the scene who did not drink the soda told police. “I didn’t know what to do, and another resident who lives next to the village hall called an ambulance.”

The six women were mobilized to hospitals in Sangju, Daegu and Gimcheon.

The National Forensic Service has confirmed Tuesday that pesticide was laced in the drink, and police are currently questioning all village residents. According to police, the substance found in the bottle is especially toxic and was banned from shelves in 2012.

One of the survivors, a 65-year-old surnamed Sin who awoke Tuesday night, said on Wednesday that the beverage had tasted stale, as if it had been purchased a long time ago, but did not suspect anything was wrong with it.

“As soon as I drank it, I felt weird, so I tried to spit it into the sink,” she said, adding that she had no idea who might have laced the beverage.

According to police and local residents, the soda was purchased from a store near the village Sunday, but on Tuesday the lid of the bottle had been changed to another. Police are also looking into the compositions of the other drinks that were stored in the village hall.

Local authorities believe the perpetrator is likely to be a village resident and have secured statements that residents often argued while playing the Korean card game known as hwatu in the village hall.

A police official said law enforcement had pinpointed about five potential suspects in the village, including two who were at the scene when the six women were found. Police are looking into CCTV footage that recorded all vehicles and bicycles entering and leaving the village.

Police are currently investigating to see whether anyone in town may be in possession of the particular pesticide put in the drink. Farms and stores are included in the search.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, NAM YOON-SEO [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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