UC Berkeley professor emeritus Sydney Kustu, 71, was found dead in an apparent suicide with a toxic chemical Tuesday afternoon at a hotel on Durant Avenue, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau said Wednesday.
Berkeley police and fire departments responded to the historic hotel — the Berkeley City Club — Tuesday at 1:56 p.m., according to BPD Sergeant Joe Okies. Upon arriving on scene, police said they found a note from Kustu, who lived in an apartment on the third floor of the six-story building, indicating that sodium azide was present. The chemical is commonly found in airbags and, when mixed with water or an acid, changes quickly to a toxic gas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials evacuated and closed the building for about six hours due to the potentially hazardous materials situation. None of the surrounding buildings were evacuated, although police closed Durant Avenue between Fulton and Dana streets for several hours during the investigation.
Kustu was a professor emeritus in the department of plant and microbial biology within the College of Natural Resources and received her doctorate from UC Davis. She joined the National Academy of Sciences in 1993.
The Berkeley City Club, which is located between Dana and Ellsworth streets at 2315 Durant Ave., is a private social club and event venue, in addition to holding hotel and apartment rooms.
This post has been updated to reflect further information from police obtained Wednesday.