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Posted on Wed, Feb. 11, 2004 story:PUB_DESC
Bucks woman found dead in Ind. laboratory
Traci R. Johnson was found at clinic where she was part of testing for a new drug.

Inquirer Staff Writer

A 19-year-old former Bible college student from Bensalem committed suicide Saturday in Indianapolis, police there reported.

Traci R. Johnson was found hanging by a scarf from a bathroom shower rod in the Lilly Laboratory for Clinical Research, the Indianapolis Star reported yesterday. She left no note, the newspaper reported.

A toxicology test will determine whether drugs played a role. Johnson had been participating in clinical trials for a drug that Eli Lilly & Co. hoped to launch this year, the Star reported.

Lilly officials said Monday they did not believe the drug - duloxetine - was related to Johnson's death. Toxicology test results are expected in about a month.

Johnson's death "has ripped the heart out of the body of our church," said the Rev. Joel Barnaby, pastor of the Greater Church of Philadelphia in Kensington, where Johnson had been a youth leader for several years.

She was a 2002 graduate of Bensalem High School and lived with her family in the 2600 block of Finley Avenue in Bensalem, according to the high school and family friends.

Paul D. Mooney, president of Indiana Bible College in Indianapolis, which serves the United Pentecostal Church International, said Johnson was a student for one semester at his school but dropped out early last month and joined a clinical study at Lilly.

"I would suspect it was" for financial reasons that she dropped out, Mooney said. "We encouraged her to do both."

Mooney said Johnson was "very perky" and "lived on campus up until she dropped out [and] was living at the Eli Lilly residence for people who... are in their program."

Barnaby said that Johnson's father, a machinist, was laid off about six months ago and that one of her three sisters had to drop out of school for financial reasons.

Barnaby was furious at the drug firm.

"I am troubled to the core of my spirit that Eli Lilly has taken such a defensive posture and [has] been so quick to deny any responsibility" in Johnson's death, "throwing all the blame on this young lady."

"All the pathological reports, the toxicity reports, those things don't come back for weeks. And I am shocked that they have taken such a deliberate defense to distance themselves from any responsibility."

David Shaffer, a spokesman for Eli Lilly, said "there is no circumstance in which we are trying to blame anybody. This is an incredibly sad thing for everybody involved."

For privacy reasons, Shaffer said he could not identify the person "who did die on Saturday from an apparent suicide" and who was found "in a room at the Lilly Laboratory for Clinical Research."

According to an Indianapolis Police Department incident report, Johnson was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. Saturday at Indiana University Hospital and was ruled a suicide.

Shaffer said a drug called duloxetine "is being studied as a treatment for stress, urinary incontinence and depression."

He said the woman in question was "a healthy subject" who "would have been taking medications as part of the study and we would have been taking various test results." There are about 100 subjects in the study.

But last week, he said, the woman who committed suicide was on a placebo. "Her death took place while she was taking sugar pills rather than duloxetine."

Shaffer did not know how much Lilly was paying Johnson, but he said that, "typically payments to participants in studies such as this are in the neighborhood of $150 a day." He declined to state her weekly income.

At the nondenominational Pentecostal church in Kensington, Barnaby said the Johnson family commuted three times a week to take part in the church's work, which he said was "an inner-city mission."

In the neighborhood near Frankford and Allegheny Avenues, which Barnaby characterized as low-income and high-crime, Johnson and other young people would gather neighborhood children for meals and entertainment.

Barnaby said that after graduating from Bible college, Johnson had expected to return to be an inner-city missionary.

Johnson is survived by her father, Michael; her mother, Margaret; three sisters, Crystal, Freda and Vicki; and several aunts and uncles.

A viewing will be held at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Greater Church of Philadelphia, 2021 E. Allegheny Ave., followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem.


Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-345-7768 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.
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