Death Caps (Amanita phalloides)
Claim Victims in Rochester, New York,
and San Francisco, Calif.
NOTE: The following story was carried on the Associated
Press on Feb. 9, 1996
but is still valid as a informational piece.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A migrant field worker died after
eating poisonous mushrooms, possibly the same variety that sickened a 13-year-old girl and
Arturo Leyba-Sanchez of Petaluma died within three days of eating the mushrooms, called
Death Caps. His death prompted Sonoma County officials on Thursday to issue a health
warning, urging residents not to eat any wild mushrooms.
"If it kills a person that fast weve got to do something," said Will
Wallman, a coroners office investigator.
The teen-age girl, who ate death caps in a spaghetti sauce along with her family, had part
of a donor liver grafted onto her liver on Thursday. Her liver had absorbed most of the
toxins from the mushrooms. Doctors hope the operation helps the girls organ
Doctors at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco said she showed no
signs of rejection. She remained in serious but stable condition early today.
The girls two brothers, aged 11 and 14, were released from the hospital Thursday.
Her mother was upgraded from serious to fair condition.
Investigators believe Leyba-Sanchez, who emigrated from Mexico a year ago, ate the
mushrooms on Saturday. Two days later, he complained of stomach pains and began vomiting.
He died Tuesday at Petaluma Valley Hospital, Sonoma County sheriffs Lt. Mike Brown
An autopsy revealed toxic substances consistent with poisons found in death caps, also
known as Amanita phalloides. However, medical examiners said they could not determine the
specific kind of mushrooms Leyba-Sanchez ate. Police were trying to find out where he
picked the mushrooms, Brown said.
Chris Kjeldsen, a biology professor at Sonoma State University, said Death Caps are
commonly found in Sonoma County and have been abundant because of heavy rain. He said an
edible mushroom---Volvariella speciosa---that looks nearly identical to the death caps
also are found in the county.
The family of the 13-year-old girl may have mistaken the death caps, which have a fuzzy
white coating, for a common edible mushroom called Coccoli. The caps were gathered near
the Lafayette Reservoir east of San Francisco Bay, diced along with two less poisonous
mushrooms and added to a spaghetti sauce that the family ate Saturday night. By the next
morning, all four were hospitalized with stomach pains.
The hospital refused to disclose the name of the girl or her family. But the Contra Costa
Times identified the woman as Rita Chang of Orinda and her daughter, Jennifer. The
boys names were not available.
Meanwhile, in Rochester, NY:
(This is a portion of a report by Leo J. Tanghe, reprinted here from
Mycopages, the Newsletter of the Rochester Area Mycological Association [RAMA].)
We had a serious mushroom poisoning by Amanita phalloides here this fall. It is surprising
that we have not experienced this before because we have an abundance of this mushroom
every year in our parks since it was first found by Father James Wolfe in 1970. It is a
large, conspicuous, attractive mushroom occurring from mid-September through mid-November
after many of the other mushrooms are no longer fruiting.
On October 11, 1995, I got a phone call from June Johnston, president of RAMA, asking if I
had heard about a case of mushroom poisoning. I had not, but I had been away from home
during the day.
Early the next morning, I received a call from Dr. Paul Wax of the Department of Emergency
Medicine of the University of Rochester Medical School about Amanita poisoning. Four
Laotians had been poisoned. He wanted me to accompany him and some Laotian survivors to
the collection site to confirm the identity of the Amanita as A. phalloides. I agreed to
meet with him at 2:30 in Durand Eastman Park.
Soon after making this committment, I thought that Father Wolfe might like to join us. He
is an avid Amanita collector and agreed enthusiastically.
I, with my wife Ruth and son Richard, arrived at the parking lot at 2:15. We saw two cars
already there. One was a Yugo belonging to Fr. Wolfe. We saw him in the woods on a steep
slope just south of the parking lot. He told us there were many nice specimens of A.
phalloides on the hillside.
The other car belonged to a cameraman from Cable Channel 9. The cameraman for Channel 13
then arrived with reporter Mary Bubala. She spoke with me as I sat in my car and again
after I moved my chair close to three nice specimens of A. phalloides coming up through
the grass. Next on the scene were Dr. Sandra Schneider and Dr. Paul Wax from the
University of Rochester Medical School, and Dr. David Cobaugh from the Finger Lakes
Regional Poison Control Center, and finally two Laotians who had witnessed the poisoned
victims collecting mushrooms on October 9th a short distance down the road
Everyone had ample opportunity to see the poisonous A. phalloides in various stages of
maturity in their natural habitat. The group then moved down the road about -mile to
where the Laotians had made their collections on October 9th and saw the same mushrooms in
The TV cameraman got excellent photos of Fr. Wolfe and me pointing out the chief
characteristics of these mushrooms: the color, the annulus, and the volva. These pictures
were shown on Rochester TV Channels at 5, 6 and 11:00 PM that evening. I got numerous
phone calls throughout the evening telling me that they saw me on TV.
June Johnston suggested that RAMA make up a flyer to pass out to the Laotian people,
warning them about the danger of poisonous mushrooms in the parks. I prepared such a
flyer, which she copied on her word processor, adding a drawing to visually define the
mycological terms annulus and volva. June plans to get it translated into Laotian to
distribute to their community.
Dr. Paul Wax brought me up to date on the condition of the victims. They all suffered
liver damage, but did not need liver transplants, and were realeased from the hospital. I
asked him to prepare a short medical report for publication in the next issue of
Mycopages. He expects the incident to be reported in a suitable medical journal.
About the author:
At 85, Dr. Leo Tanghe has been studying mushrooms for over 50 years. His course in
mushroom identification was a favorite at the Rochester Museum & Science Center for
over 20 years. RAMA, which is only 10 years old, was formed mostly from students taught by
Leo. Leos early work, detailing his efforts in identifying Amanita phalloides, can
be found in Walter Littens article "The Most Poisonous Mushrooms" in the
March, 1975 issue of Scientific American.
A Note on A. phalloides in upstate New York
by Dave Fischer
Once again, North American victims of Amanita phalloides are natives of Southeast Asia,
where most everyone knows about the safe delicious Volvariella "Padi-Straw"
mushroom, which also has a sac-like volva. In that part of the world, there are no A.
phalloides---and apparently no other deadly Amanitas either. If one disregards the annulus
(ring), the mushrooms appear remarkably similar; morbid "accidents" are bound to
happen whenever and wherever Southeast Asian natives are exposed to North American
populations of A. phalloides.
Roy Reehil recently informed me that he has found Death Caps near Cleveland, on the North
Shore of Oneida Lake; what he didnt realize at the time he saw the mushroom is that
this fungus has never been reported from Oswego or Onondaga County, nor from any of the
adjacent or surrounding counties. We will document it in 1996. Please report any sightings
of this mushroom immediately.
The occurrence of A. phalloides in the Irondequoit area (north of Rochester) can be traced
back to Father Wolfes discovery of it under imported Norway spruce trees in 1970.
Its known range there has since spread to comprise a band about 10 miles long, with all
sites within two miles of the south shore of Lake Ontario. In addition to the spruce
trees, spores have also colonized native oak trees in the area.