BANGOR (AP) – Like a modern Rip Van Winkle, the first member of Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church to arrive at the emergency room after being poisoned has emerged from the fog two weeks later.

Ralph Ostlund, who drank three cups of arsenic-tainted coffee after a worship service, learned what happened to him on Sunday. Up until then, the 79-year-old had been “unresponsive,” according to family members.

“I think about it and I can’t believe it’s happening,” said a weakened Ostlund, fiddling with the collar of his blue hospital gown inside Eastern Maine Medical Center’s intensive care unit in Bangor.

The information came in startling bits and pieces: His friend Walter Reid Morrill, 78, died from the poisoning. His skiing partner, Daniel Bondeson, is believed by police to have played a role.

Bondeson, 53, committed suicide five days after Ostlund, Morrill and 14 others were poisoned at Gustaf Adolph.

“It’s sad,” said Ostlund, who was speaking without his false teeth, which hospital workers said were soaking in a solution to leach out all of the arsenic that might remain.

Ostlund and several other victims received a visit Sunday from Gov. John Baldacci.

“You’re pretty tough,” Baldacci said in the 10-minute bedside visit, during which the two shook hands and exchanged a few jokes. “I wish I was half as tough as you are.”

The meeting left Baldacci marveling at the New Sweden man’s strength, and that of the small farming community grappling with a tragedy that has left many unanswered questions.

State police are continuing their investigation into the poisonings. They are trying to determine whether more than one person was involved in the poisonings, which took place after the church service.

Ostlund was one of a dozen Gustaf Adolph parishioners who reported to the Cary Medical Center emergency room on April 27. He and several others were shipped to the Eastern Maine Medical Center.

Daniel Harrigan, the emergency room physician at Cary, said Ostlund drank three cups of coffee. Some of those who became violently ill had consumed much less coffee than that, he said.

His theory on Ostlund’s survival was that the arsenic, which is a heavy metal, had settled at the bottom of the coffee pot, meaning parishioners received different concentrations of arsenic in the coffee they drank.

Family members said hospital staff advised them that it would be at least another two weeks before Ostlund could return home, which the avid golfer jokingly described as a “par 4 from the church.”

Ostlund’s youngest daughter, Carole Ringer of Waterville, said her father was just starting to read newspaper coverage of the poisoning that brought a horde of national media to the small Aroostook County town of 625 people.

“Now that we’ve told him what happened, he wants to know why,” said Ringer, who held her father’s hand throughout much of his interview with the Bangor Daily News. “He just wants to know everything.”

AP-ES-05-12-03 1047EDT



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