CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) – A Bristol Myers Squibb chemist with known “violent and irrational propensities” was able to steal poisonous thallium from company stockpiles and slowly kill her husband because of “non-existent security,” the man’s estate claims in Superior Court.
“This may sound like a story line right out of Agatha Christie, ‘CSI’ or ‘House,’ but it is tragically true,” said the estate’s attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, in a statement.
Tianle Li is currently facing first-degree murder charges in New Jersey connected to the death of her estranged husband, Xiaoye Wang.
Before he died at the University Medical Center in Princeton, Wang repeatedly told hospital staffers that he thought his soon-to-be ex-wife was trying to poison him, according to the complaint filed Thursday.
Coupled with Bristol Myers’ “lax chemical controls,” the repeated failure of hospital staffers to contact law enforcement effectively ended the 39-year-old software engineer’s life, the estate claims.
It also says security personnel with Li’s former employer, Bristol Myers, had been called to investigate multiple “incidents” involving the scientist prior to Wang’s death.
“These investigations involved incidents where Tianle Li had engaged in actions constituting false imprisonment, vandalism” and verbal or physical assaults on the company’s campus, according to the suit.
Bristol Myers must have known that Li was dangerous since it had already barred her from accessing certain parts of a Bristol Myers facility because a fellow employee obtained a restraining order against her for exhibiting “violent and threatening behavior,” according to the suit.
That checkered workplace history should have been enough to convince the company that it was vitally important to prevent Li from accessing Bristol Myers’ stockpiles of deadly chemicals, the estate says.
But Wang’s family says that unfortunately never happened.
Li repeatedly and without authorization accessed the company’s trove of thallium – a soft, gray metal that is tasteless and odorless,” according to the complaint. Some characterize the element as the “poisoner’s poison.”
Another attorney for the estate, Brian Fritz with Saltz Mongeluzzi, told Courthouse News that Bristol Myers has no security. “There is none,” Fritz said, emphasizing that it is “completely and totally lacking in a post 9-11 world.“
State prosecutors say Li pilfered the chemical from Bristol Myers’ Lawrenceville, N.J., facility, then began mixing it into her husband’s food and drink in November 2010.
On Jan. 14, 2011, Wang showed up at the emergency room of defendant University Medical Center at Princeton complaining of severe abdominal pain, the estate says.
After Wang told hospital staffers he thought his wife was trying to poison him, a doctor noted in his case-file: “It appears that the patient is going through marital difficulties and he thinks that his wife may be poisoning him,” according to the suit.
Wang’s survivors say the couple was in the final phase of divorce proceedings, but hospital personnel didn’t take Wang seriously.
Staff never contacted law enforcement to investigate, and continued to allow Wang’s wife to visit him without supervision, even though doctors suspected thallium poisoning could be responsible for his dire condition and had ordered a thallium-specific test of Wang’s urine, the estate says.
Instead of acting on Wang’s alarming claims, one doctor opined in Wang’s case-file that “the fact that he is accusing his wife of poisoning him may suggest the presence of a paranoid syndrome,” according to the suit.
On Jan. 23, Wang’s condition worsened. He became “unresponsive, foaming at mouth, tongue thrashing, and urinary incontinence,” the estate says.
Wang was transferred to the intensive care unit, along with a note from a staff member stating: “Wife came to visit patient at 8:05 p.m. – acting strangely, not leaving bedside. Wife should be monitored if comes to visit and patient shouldn’t be left alone,” according to the suit.
Despite the numerous red flags during Wang’s nine-day hospitalization, no staffers contacted law enforcement, according to the suit.
But they did add another note to Wang’s case-file on Jan. 24, stating: “There was some concern that the patient apparently told one of the physicians that his wife may be poisoning him. … The patient is now on a ventilator.”
A hospital internist called New Jersey Poison Control on Jan. 25 to report that Wang was suffering thallium poisoning, the suit states.
But the critical call – a call to law enforcement – never happened and Wang died on Jan. 26, the estate says.
His estate is suing Bristol Myers Squibb, the University Medical Center and various hospital staffers. Their attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, is a partner with Philadelphia-based Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky.
Li is widely reported to have pleaded not guilty in May to first-degree murder.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said she couldn’t comment on the case.
Bristol Myers Squibb said it had not received the complaint and would not comment.
“Our condolences go out to the family of Xiaoye Wang,” spokeswoman Laura Hortas said. “Bristol-Myers Squibb has provided assistance to law enforcement authorities during the investigation of Mr. Wang’s death.”