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Homicide cops looking into death of man who drank fish tank cleaner ‘to ward off coronavirus’

chloroquine phosphate (Joegoauk Goa/Flickr)

An Arizona police department is reportedly looking into the death of a man who died last month after his wife said they swallowed chloroquine phosphate, thinking it would help prevent them from catching the COVID-19 coronavirus.

A homicide detective reviewing the death of Gary Lenius confirmed the investigation to the Washington Free Beacon Tuesday after requesting a copy of the Free Beacon’s recorded interviews with Lenius’s wife, Wanda, the online newspaper reported.

After Gary Lenius, 68, died on March 22, Wanda, 61, told several news outlets she and her husband had ingested a substance used to clean aquariums after hearing President Donald Trump tout one of its ingredients, chloroquine phosphate, during his public health press briefings.

NBC News reported the story, and it went viral, feeding into political divisions and criticisms of Trump. But the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online newspaper, dug into the story and interviewed Wanda and Gary’s friends, raising questions.

Wanda reportedly told the newspaper that she watched the president tout the virtues of chloroquine on the news, and remembered buying a container of “chloroquine phosphate” years before to clean a fish tank.

“We weren’t big supporters of [Trump], but we did see that they were using it in China and stuff,” she reportedly told the newspaper. “And we just made a horrible, tragic mistake.”

Wanda reportedly told the Free Beacon that they each consumed “one teaspoon and some soda” each, which represents at least four times the lethal limit. They both started having severe symptoms within 30 minutes.

“I started vomiting,” she told NBC News last month. “My husband started developing respiratory problems and wanted to hold my hand.”

Both were taken to the hospital but the man could not be resuscitated.

The Free Beacon interviewed some of Gary’s friends who said the story didn’t add up.

“What bothers me about this is that Gary was a very intelligent man, a retired [mechanical] engineer who designed systems for John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa, and I really can’t see the scenario where Gary would say, ‘Yes, please, I would love to drink some of that Koi fish tank cleaner,'” one of his close friends reportedly told the Free Beacon. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The Free Beacon found campaign finance records show that Wanda Lenius had given thousands of dollars to Democratic groups and candidates over the past two years, most recently to the 314 Action Fund. The fund promotes itself as the “pro-science resistance” and has criticized the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The newspaper also reported that Wanda Lenius was charged with domestic abuse assault in 2001 after she allegedly hit her husband and swung a mounted birdhouse at him. Gary Lenius declined to cooperate, testifying that he was not injured or placed in fear of injury. His wife was exonerated.

When the Free Beacon asked Wanda Lenius if she had a conversation with her husband before consuming the laced-soda, she reportedly said: “No. I mean, it was really kind of a spur of the moment thing.”

The newspaper said it turned over its recording of Wanda’s interview to police.

Homicide Detective Teresa Van Galder reportedly told the Free Beacon:

“As this is an active investigation, I cannot go into any details at this time regarding the case,” Van Galder said.

Once the newspaper published its story Tuesday announcing the homicide investigation, a police spokesman reached out to the newspaper to emphasize that is “normal protocol” for the homicide department to investigate “all death cases (other than obvious natural causes)” and that the death “has not been ruled a homicide at this time.”


© 2020 Syracuse Media Group