Oberlin police still trying to identify mystery substance that caused seven people to get sick

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OBERLIN, Ohio -- Investigators are still working to determine what caused seven people to fall ill after being exposed to some kind of mystery substance.

It all started on Tuesday when Oberlin police responded to a suspicious person call at a local Walmart.

Sgt. Jessica Beyer made contact with the suspect in the parking lot. Detective Marc Ellis also responded to the scene and said the suspect was initially responsive and able to speak with officers as they conducted their investigation.

"The sergeant was checking the vehicle, and I was initially assisting her with checking the vehicle, and then that's when she started feeling funny," Ellis recalled.

He said he told Sgt. Beyer to get away from the car, but the symptoms did not subside, so she self administered a dose of Narcan to counter them.

Soon afterward, the suspect started to become unresponsive.

Police Chief Ryan Warfield said while the suspect was being transported to Mercy Allen Hospital a medic also started feeling ill.

"You just never know, I mean she could have touched something that I didn't. She may have touched the suspect before I got there because a lot of it we thought led to something coming from him because I was with her and never had any symptoms, so we were thinking maybe she had contact with the suspect before I got there," said Ellis, who never got sick.

While at the hospital, four additional caregivers who had contact with the suspect also started feeling ill, which forced the hospital to take the extreme measure of closing its emergency department so it could be decontaminated, sending patients who could be transported, to other facilities.

"I think that's why it's so critical to debrief so we can do that and internally, we will do that with our county partners because in spite of following process, procedures protocols, in spite of donning all of the appropriate protective gear people still were exposed," said Charlotte Wray, President of Mercy Allen Hospital.

Police on Tuesday said they were testing items from the truck and from the suspect to try and identify the substance that made everyone sick, but on Wednesday, Chief Warfield said the tests that have been conducted so far show no trace of anything.

"We searched the car, we searched the suspect, we did not locate anything conducive to an opiate based product. We didn't locate any fentanyl, carfentanyl, we know that everybody is showing signs of that, but we didn't locate anything and essentially it's going to amount to a theft because he stole some stuff from WalMart," said Chief Warfield.

He said some additional items are or will be tested.

In the meantime, police said the truck they found the suspect in did not belong to him and had a fake license plate on it.

Police said they have identified the owner of the truck, who was not at the scene while they were there, and hope he can provide some additional information about what they might have come in contact with.

Both the hospital and police said the incident has reminded them of the dangers of dealing with something that first responders everywhere are encountering on a routine basis.

"When we debrief on this, there are some things that we learned. The guys did an awesome job and for future reference, as you know, we have to deal with this differently now," said Warfield.

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