Wednesday 23 January 2019

Lethal methanol drink killed two friends three months apart

A man has died after his car crashed into a ditch in Kerry
A man has died after his car crashed into a ditch in Kerry

Greg Harkin

Food safety experts have launched an investigation to find how two men died drinking industrial strength methanol in the first cases of their kinds in the country.

Close friends Denis Boyle and Ramantas Grigaliunas died three months apart in what were suspected poteen poisoning cases.

But inquests have found their deaths were similar to a spate of incidents in the Czech Republic in 2012, where 38 people died after drinking vodka mixed with methanol.

Two businessmen were jailed for life in Prague in May this year for making the illegal drink.

But authorities here still haven't traced the methanol linked to the two men's deaths.

Mr Boyle (63) and Lithuanian national Ramantas Grigaliunas, (51) both from the townland of Meenbanad, Burtonport, Co Donegal, had consumed lethal doses of methanol.

Inquests heard that Mr Boyle was found dead at his home in the early hours of December 18 last year.

His widow Maire Boyle told the inquest she and her husband had been drinking Cream of the Barley Scotch.

"After a while Dinny came in with a green bottle; he told me it was poitin," she said. "I told him not to drink it. I took a sip and it was terrible, I told him to mix it with something, but I think he continued to drink it straight," she said.

He later fell asleep, getting up a number of times to go to the bathroom.

Mr Grigaliunas was found dead at his home on March 13 this year, less than three months after his friend's death.

Former housemate Ms Danghole Grigeniene said she called to the house and opened it with her spare key and found the deceased lying the wrong way up on his bed in only his underwear.

Garda Francis Coyle said officers found nine bottles in a search of the house.

There were plastic water bottles and Smirnoff brand bottles found in the kitchen, utility room, shed and one in the bedroom between the headboard and the mattress.

When gardai asked the friends of the deceased about the bottles and if it was 'poitin' they said they had never seen the deceased with it and he never talked about it.

John Cody, chief audit manager with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), told the inquest nine bottles were analysed by Customs and Excise.

Eight test results were 'non-significant' while the remaining 1.5 litre green plastic water bottle contained nearly one litre of 97pc methanol.

Mr Cody added that one of the other bottles seized was an unopened bottle of Smirnoff vodka.

Mr Grigaliunas had 229mg of methanol per 100ml of blood in his body. Mr Boyle's blood had a reading of 585mg.

Mr Cody told coroner John Cannon an investigation into the source of methanol has been launched.

"It is well-known that methanol is lethal and it is why we became concerned when your suspicions arose of counterfeit alcohol in these cases," he told the coroner.

Mr Cody said the fact that there were two methanol deaths in such close proximity was of "grave concern" to the FSAI.

"We will be working very closely with the other state authorities to investigate this matter further and find the source of the methanol.

"This was not home distilled – to be able to produce methanol of that strength this product came from industrial use, is my belief," he said.

Irish Independent

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