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UPMC researcher died of acute cyanide poisoning, medical examiner says

A UPMC researcher who collapsed at her desk this month died of acute cyanide poisoning, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday.

Doctors pronounced Nicole Kotchey, 35, of Ross dead in UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital on Nov. 12.

The medical examiner said the manner of her death is undetermined.

“It’s the ongoing police investigation to determine if it’s accidental, suicidal, if we have to leave it undetermined,” said Dr. Karl Williams, the medical examiner.

Investigators speaking on background indicated that although they have not ruled it out, homicide is not a leading theory in Kotchey’s cause of death.

Pittsburgh police Lt. Daniel Herrmann said detectives will begin an “in-depth investigation.”

“Now, we’re going to start looking into her past,” he said.

Kotchey’s co-workers in a UPMC research lab on Craft Avenue in Oakland found her on the floor in front of her desk about 8:30 a.m. and called 911. She died at 12:24 p.m. that day.

UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko declined to comment.

Gregg Kotchey described his sister as “a kind-hearted and loving daughter and sister” and gifted molecular biologist.

“The family is still grieving over the loss of Nicole, which is especially hard during the holiday season,” he said, adding that the family requests privacy during the investigation into her death.

The Medical Examiner’s Office does not test for cyanide in every case, but certain levels of toxicology tests include a cyanide screening, Williams said. He could not specify what prompted investigators to test for cyanide in Kotchey’s death.

“It was a mystery death that very rapidly evolved into having some kind of concern of cyanide,” Williams said.

The semi-quantitative cyanide test done in-house allows investigators to “make a good estimate of what the level is,” Williams said.

They sent a specimen for further testing, and the results came back Friday, he said. He would not release the level of cyanide.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].


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