Medical Examiner: Research Institute Employee Did Die From Cyanide

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – A Magee Women’s Research Institute employee did die of cyanide poisoning, the medical examiner has confirmed.

Earlier this month, 34-year-old Nicole Kotchey of Ross Township, was found dead at her desk.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office says in a press release that she died of acute cyanide poisoning.

When Kotchey was found, authorities suspected cyanide as a possible cause. A city mobile crime unit was also called to the research institute.

Authorities say they are still investigating the manner of her death, however.

“There’s only so much my office can do in terms of investigating how it got into her hands,” Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams told the Associated Press. “We have to rely on the police to make that part of the investigation.”

Pittsburgh police major crimes Lt. Daniel Herrmann said police received the medical examiner’s findings Friday morning and were continuing to investigate.

UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko said she was not authorized to comment.

The recent trial of Pitt researcher Robert Ferrante in the April 2013 poisoning death of his wife raised public awareness about the effects of cyanide.

A jury convicted Ferrante of first-degree murder earlier this month.

Ferrante, a noted researcher into Lou Gehrig’s disease, has denied killing his wife and plans to appeal. He acknowledged ordering cyanide for his lab, but said he needed it for research on stem cells that are used to replicate the way neurological cells die as a result of the disease.

Former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht testified recently in the Ferrante murder trial.

Dr. Wecht explained on the KD-PG Sunday Edition what cyanide poisoning does to body.

“Cyanide blocks the enzyme that permits oxygen to go from the arteries into the cells,” said Dr. Wecht, a forensic pathologist. “So, you have all the oxygen in the world, in fact your veins become fully oxygenated as well as your arteries, but nothing is getting into your cells – that’s how cyanide works.”

Kotchey worked in a hospital lab, but UPMC officials have not commented on the nature of her employment since Williams first raised questions about her death two weeks ago.

Manko has previously said that the health network was cooperating with the police investigation.

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