Former graduate student under investigation for possible theft of chemical materials

Sarah White

The FBI and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the possible theft of chemical materials from a UT lab by former graduate student Karl Jasheway, 26, according to University officials.

According to a University statement, Travis County Sheriff’s deputies apprehended Jasheway for driving while intoxicated in the 3600 block of Bee Cave Road on Dec. 21.

After being notified by Travis County sheriff’s deputies, UTPD conducted a search of Jasheway’s apartment, according to UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon and documentation released by University officials.

UTPD officials investigating the incident found 11 vials containing a non-dangerous fragment of toxic Ricin DNA and later discovered 44 plastic vials in Jasheway’s apartment. Naturally occurring Ricin is highly toxic and is produced by the castor oil plant.

Details of Jasheway’s enrollment are protected under FERPA regulations, according to Lee Clippard, communcations director for the College of Natural Sciences.

“Mr. Jasheway was a graduate student in Dr. Robertus’ lab as of the end of the Fall 2011 semester. He is no longer enrolled at the University,” Clippard said.

Peter Schneider, director of environmental health and safety at UT, said biochemistry professor Jon Robertus and his lab employees were researching an antidote for the Ricin toxin. Robertus’ lab was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health, Schneider said.

Schneider said the lab was subject to regular self-inspection and an official inspection by his office at least once a year. According to the University statement, UT does not possess any biological agents that are monitored by Centers for Disease Control, because all potentially harmful toxins are held in extremely small quantities.

He said University officials constantly review lab safety procedures, but the Jasheway incident has led to new precautions.

“We have approved new and more strenuous rules for how small amounts of dangerous chemicals are handled in our laboratories,” Schneider said. “I consider this to be part of the process of creating a ‘safety culture’ at UT and we feel like we are making good progress.”

Printed on Monday, March 19, 2012 as: Travis County, FBI investigate toxin sample theft from lab