University News

Questionable practices surface for lab handling hair test

Carlson Co. and Lykissa histories, test result errors cast doubt on administration’s lab choice

By
University News Editor
Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The two companies involved in conducting a flawed hair test in the Phi Kappa Psi case have drawn criticism for their work on several other cases prior to working with the University.

The Carlson Company, which the University hired to produce the toxicology report, and Ernest Lykissa, the director of the laboratory that analyzed the hair sample, have both been previously accused of inaccurate and misleading test reporting, articles from multiple news outlets show.

Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, declined to comment on whether and how the University vetted the Carlson Company or Lykissa, who recommended them to the University, and whether the University was aware of their checkered histories before engaging with them.

In a March 2 letter to one of the two female students who reported being drugged at an October Phi Psi party, Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio ’95, associate dean of student life and director of student conduct, acknowledged that “hair test results were inconclusive due to an error in how the test was run.”

The inconclusive hair test contributed to the lack of physical evidence in the case against the Phi Kappa Psi member accused of spiking a drink with the date-rape drug GHB, which in turn led the hearing to be canceled.

The Carlson Company’s general manager, Denny Seilheimer, declined to comment for this story.

Lykissa, of ExperTox Inc., defended his testing procedures in a conversation with The Herald Monday evening.

Lykissa’s methods were previously questioned by both Medical Director of Health Services Unab Khan and an independent toxicologist hired by the University to review the test results. They expressed doubt that Lykissa appropriately segmented the hair — a process important for determining whether GHB, which humans naturally produce, had been given as a date-rape drug.

Lykissa said the Carlson Company, which sent ExperTox the sample for testing, did not instruct the lab to provide segmented hair test results.

Nonetheless, Lykissa said he reported segmented results. After The Herald asked for documents to corroborate that assertion, Lykissa said he would provide them but never did.

This is not the first time Lykissa has been associated with flawed drug testing and reporting processes while working with the Carlson Company, which came under scrutiny for misinterpreting chemical levels in a hair test during the investigation of actress Brittany Murphy’s death in 2009.

Lykissa was the toxicologist who performed the test for that report and identified high concentrations of 10 heavy metals in Murphy’s hair.

In its report, the Carlson Company suggested there was a strong possibility that the toxins were “administered by a third party perpetrator with likely criminal intent.” But studies have shown that hair dye, which Murphy used, is a common reason for high heavy metal readings in women’s hair, Slate reported in November 2013.

In a GHB hair test for a 2010 case in Redwood City, California, Lykissa initially reported a GHB level that would have been fatal and then admitted he had unintentionally tacked on a digit, according to a June 2014 article by Easy Reader, a weekly newspaper serving the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

Lykissa conceded this reporting error to The Herald.

Responding to the prosecution’s requests for a follow-up test, Lykissa provided a new report. But both parties questioned the report’s legitimacy, the results were judged false and the case was ultimately dismissed, Easy Reader reported.

In a 2011 case involving a Redondo Beach, California firefighter, Lykissa reported impossible doxylamine levels of 28,000 pg/mg in the defendant’s hair, Easy Reader reported.

He acknowledged to The Herald that he misreported what was actually a reading of 28 pg/mg but took no personal responsibility for the mistake, attributing it to a chemist in his lab.

In May 2006, the journal Analytical Chemistry published an article co-authored by Lykissa. But two months later, the journal’s editors published a disclaimer that his methodology did not meet the publication’s standards.

  • Greek alum

    What a joke. Such a shame that Brown can’t do right by anyone in this case. Truly a sad day for us all. How long did it take the herald to find this info? The brown admin couldn’t find this stuff themselves? Disgraceful.

  • Alum ’14

    Questionable practices? The author cite two incidents, neither of which had anything to do with testing procedures, in an attempt to discreddit the tox screen she clearly doesn’t agree with (did anyine notice it’s the same authour as “Along with letter…”?). In the case of the actress and the heavy metals, all thats says in enviromental factors should be considered when interpretting a tox screen. For the 28,000 pg v. 28 pg, as a former science concentrator, I’d guess someone went to saying 28 ng, and forgot to change to p to an n. It’s a mistake many have made before. Nothing about testing methodology, just a typo.

    • Uncle Ned

      The lab report by forensic toxicologist Ernest Lykissa, which was obtained by ABC News reads: “Testing the hair strand sample identified as ‘back of the head’ we have detected ten (10) heavy metals at levels above the WHO [World Health Organization] high levels recommendation. If we were to eliminate the possibility of a simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure to the sample donor then the only logical explanation would be an exposure to these metals (toxins) administered by a third party perpetrator with likely criminal intent.”

      This is what Lykissa actually said regarding Murphy. Shows you what 5 minutes of Google is worth. Shame on the writter for cherry picking quotes.

      • MD/PhD Candidate

        How is it cherry picking? Even in your quote they said it had to be a third party who administered the heavy metals when it could have been Murphy dying her hair.

        And with regard to Alum’14 but I’m sorry, but this is a forensic laboratory . Those kinds of mistakes are inexcusable whether they are methodological errors or not. Doctors and Nurses get sued and lose licenses over these types of errors and given the gravity of the work this lab is doing they and their clients shouldn’t tolerate such mistakes either.

        • Uncle Ned

          With regards to the cherry picking, the original quote was heavily qualified. Lykissa in no way said it had to be a third party. “If we were to eliminate the possibility of a simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure to the sample donor” then it would be “logical” that is was a third party. The hair dye seems to be the kind of thing I’d consider “simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure.”
          The article made no attempt to pass that on. Therefore, the quote was used out of context.

          And you’re going to be a Doctor?…

  • Melody ’84

    Klawunn vetted the labs, knew about their checkered history, and chose them precisely because of what she knew. She is a piece of work.