Authorities seized two dozen items Wednesday from a Mason woman's condominium in connection with a federal and multistate criminal investigation into an alleged assisted-suicide ring.
The search happened after a Warren County judge approved a warrant sought by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has been investigating a group called the Final Exit Network. According to its Web site, the group is "dedicated to serving people who are suffering from an intolerable condition."
Four members of the group in other states have been charged, but the Mason woman has not been. The FBI also is probing the network, and it wasn't immediately clear how many deaths were being investigated.
Authorities were executing search warrants at 14 sites in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Montana as part of the investigation.
The Mason woman allegedly participated in an assisted suicide in states where it is illegal, including Georgia, Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said. She said her office so far has assisted only with the search-warrant process.
As of Thursday, "We have no information that would suggest there was any crime in Warren County, or even in Ohio," Hutzel said.
According to the search warrant, filed Thursday in Warren County, the Mason woman was among many people who got travel reimbursements from the assisted-suicide group. A man she interviewed as a potential candidate for assistance from the group was an undercover officer posing as a man who wanted to take his own life.
The Mason woman "told the undercover agent about the ramifications of a 'botched job' if an inexperienced person was involved; she told the undercover agent, 'You end up a vegetable. ... My recommendation will be that we assist you and take you into the program,' " the Warren County document said.
During the search, authorities seized pamphlets, videos, paperwork and computer equipment relating to the Final Exit Network.
The search of the Mason home was one offshoot of a police probe of a Georgia man's death. That man had suffered from medical problems and at first appeared to have just died in his bed.
But the search warrant says officers later learned that members of the group allegedly stayed with the man while he committed suicide by helium inhalation, then removed helium tanks and other equipment from the room so family members would not know how he had really died.
The Final Exit group started in 2004 and claims 3,000 dues-paying members. Its top officers have not responded to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment about the alleged Mason connection; attempts to reach the Mason woman also were unsuccessful.
Group members Thomas E. Goodwin, who was identified as the organization's president, and Claire Blehr were arrested Wednesday at a home in northern Georgia, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.
Maryland authorities arrested the organization's medical director, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, of Baltimore, and Nicholas Alec Sheridan, a Baltimore man who is a regional coordinator for the group.
The four were charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and a violation of Georgia's anti-racketeering act. If convicted on assisted-suicide charges, they face up to five years in prison.
The charges stem from the June death of John Celmer after he inhaled helium in an assisted suicide in Cumming, about 35 miles north of Atlanta, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said.
Although authorities said Thursday that they had no evidence of Final Exit members helping with any Greater Cincinnati-area suicides, some people did recently commit suicide by helium asphyxiation.
In Warren County, on March 25, 2007, a 33-year-old man who used helium was found with a suicide note at the Marriott hotel on Mason-Montgomery Road, Deerfield Township.
In Hamilton County, similar cases involved a 47-year-old man Oct. 5, 2004, at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cincinnati; a 25-year-old man found July 7, 2006, at his Cincinnati home; and a 23-year-old man was found April 8, 2008, in his Amberley Village home.
Some of those suicide victims also had a copy of "The Final Exit" with them at the scenes of their deaths, officials say.
The book, first published in 1991, discusses in great detail how to prepare for suicide. In 2000, a supplement was published with additional information on the helium method.
Dr. Lee Lehman, a forensic pathologist at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, says that when people commit suicide by inhaling helium, their body does not detect that the air has been replaced with helium, so they don't have panic and discomfort.
"The reason they die is there is no oxygen," he said.
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States (load item map)
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