LOOMIS — It’s a story that plays out often in California once the fall rainy season starts and mushrooms sprout: someone unintentionally picks and eats a poisonous variety, leading to hospitalization or even death.
But Friday’s mass poisoning at an assisted-living facility near Sacramento was shocking in its scope — two dead, four others sickened, including the caregiver who had prepared soup for residents using toxic wild mushrooms.
Amateurs take a big risk when they harvest wild mushrooms, especially when they serve the fungi to others, said Casey Jonquil, owner of Alpine Foragers in Portland, Ore., who certifies and sells up to 8,000 pounds of wild mushrooms a day. "You just don’t do that.”
Placer County sheriff’s officials have called the deaths of Barbara Lopes, 86, and Teresa Olesniewicz, 73, an accident. Both residents of the homey Gold Age Villa in Loomis died after eating mushroom soup.
The assisted-living facility is licensed for up to six residents, records show. Owner Raisa Oselsky has run the home since March 2007, and the Gold Age Villa website touts its special diets and homemade meals.
"She made the best soups. It wasn’t canned. It was fantastic. For them to have made the error there is really unbelievable,” said Raymond Carlile, whose mother lived there for three years.
The names of the other victims have not been released, and Carlile fears the list could include the caretakers with whom he had become close while his mother was alive.
"They did such a good job for my mother. This is a very nice residential home. I’m concerned for everyone, but especially Raisa, who put her entire life into that place, and it’s now probably destroyed,” Carlile said.
Repeated calls to Oselsky’s cell phone were not returned, nor were messages left on the answering machine at Gold Age Villa.
In Northern California, it is the season for wild chanterelle mushrooms, a highly sought variety — and also the amanita species of mushrooms, which includes the descriptively named "death cap” and "death angel” varieties. Young poisonous North American 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, especially after someone eats a poisonous variety and falls ill.
According to state data, California had more than 1,700 reported cases of mushroom ingestion-related illnesses in 2009 to 2010. They included 10 cases of serious poisoning and two deaths: an 82-year-old Santa Barbara man who died after cooking wild mushrooms with his steak and a Lodi woman who died after eating mushrooms she had picked in a park.
"We’d like for people to be careful,” Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the CDPH, said Monday.
Severe mushroom poisoning can result in renal and liver failure.
The conditions of the four hospitalized were not immediately known. Placer County officials referred questions about the incident to the California Department of Social Services, the agency that licenses senior care facilities.
Spokesman Michael Weston did not return messages left on his cell phone.