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USF researcher dead after apparent suicide

A USF researcher died Monday night at the Extended Stay America hotel in Temple Terrace in what police say was an apparent suicide from ingesting a toxic chemical.

Chitra Chauhan, 33-year-old, a postdoctoral researcher of the College of Public Health, was pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m. by officials at University Community Hospital in Tampa, according to a Temple Terrace Police Department (TTPD) media release.

USF spokesman Michael Hoad said in a statement that the cause of death may have been potassium cyanide and that the University is working with police during the investigation.

TTPD responded to an emergency call at 8:15 p.m. about an individual experiencing cardiac arrest at the hotel.

At the scene, authorities found a suicide note. Hotel witnesses said Chauhan had possession of cyanide, and technicians from the Department of Environmental Protection confirmed the white substance they found to be that chemical.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cyanide, when inhaled or ingested, prevents body cells from using oxygen and causes them to die.

American Compliance Technologies, a bio-tech company located in Bartow, completed an environmental clean-up of the scene Tuesday morning.

According to the release, officials evacuated 75 to 100 guests to other nearby hotels for the night in “the interest of public safety.”

Hoad said the chemical is used for teaching purposes in some USF classes.

“It was not used in the research projects she was working on,” he said. “USF is currently reviewing how she obtained this chemical.”

Michael Dunn, spokesman for TTPD, said the case is still under investigation.

“(Officials) sealed off the room, and they are keeping people away from the room,” he said.

Hoad said Chauhan was in the process of doing research with the University in the Global Health laboratory.

“She investigated treatments for tropical diseases common around the world, including malaria, viral encephalopathies and filariasis,” he said in the statement. “The College of Public Health at the University of South Florida is saddened to learn of the death … The university will notify the community of public memorial services.”