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Man in ricin incident regains consciousness

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LAS VEGAS — A former Utah resident who may have been exposed to toxic ricin in his motel room a month ago has regained consciousness and was being questioned by investigators, authorities said Friday.

Roger Bergendorff, 57, remained in critical condition in a hospital, where he has been hospitalized and unable to speak since Feb. 14. Several vials of ricin powder were found in his room two weeks later after a friend went there to remove Bergendorff's belongings.

Investigators were speaking with Bergendorff for the first time Friday, said Special Agent David Staretz, an FBI spokesman. Neither he nor Las Vegas police would provide more information.

Authorities hope Bergendorff can provide information about the discovery of the deadly powder, along with castor beans from which it is derived, at an extended-stay motel where he had been living several blocks from the Las Vegas Strip.

Officials have said they've found no contamination anywhere, and no link to terrorism in the discovery of the exotic toxin, which can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. Ricin has no antidote and is legal only for cancer research.

In court documents made public this week, police call ricin a "biological weapon" and say four "anarchists cookbooks" marked at sections describing how to manufacture ricin were found in Bergendorff's room.

Friends and family members describe Bergendorff as an unemployed and unmarried graphic artist, a recovering alcoholic who loved his dog and cats and struggled to pay his bills while living in Huntington Beach, Calif., Reno, the San Diego area and a pickup truck camper near Salt Lake City. He moved in recent months to an extended stay motel several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip.

Bergendorff's cousin, Tom Tholen, found the vials of ricin in the Vegas motel room. Federal agents and emergency responders later searched Tholen's Riverton home, where Bergendorff lived for a time. The FBI also searched three West Jordan storage sheds rented by Bergendorff.

A younger brother, Erich Bergendorff of Escondido, Calif., said hospital officials told him Wednesday that his brother was awake and had been told that his beloved dog, Angel, was euthanized after the Humane Society found her starving and without water in his motel room.

"It was my impression that they were able to communicate with him and he had talked enough to ask a few things," he said.

Authorities suspect Bergendorff was exposed to ricin, and experts have said his symptoms appeared consistent with ricin exposure. The poison breaks down in the body within days making it difficult to trace.

Before Friday authorities had variously described Bergendorff as comatose and unconscious. Family members said he was sedated when they visited him Feb. 23.

Erich Bergendorff said Roger was moved Wednesday from intensive to intermediate care in the critical ward of Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center.

Erich Bergendorff said his brother was receiving dialysis for failing kidneys, and might still be on a ventilator to help him breathe.

While Roger Bergendorff had appeared down on his luck and deeply saddened by the death of his older brother in January, family members say he was not suicidal.

Documents relating to two warrants, obtained Feb. 27 and Feb. 29, were made public when they were filed Wednesday with Las Vegas Justice Court. Police told a Las Vegas judge they were "still looking for any additional locations or devices in which the agent (ricin) could be made without detection."

The only things police reported finding in Bergendorff's 1999 Buick Century were two pieces of mail addressed to him, two folders of compact discs and two pawn slips.

Contributing: Allison Hoffman