The University of Utah Police Department is investigating the death of a custodian who may have died from methanol poisoning.

Robert E. Mertes, 36, of Salt Lake City, died Oct. 13 at Holy Cross Hospital after becoming sick three days earlier at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Laboratories, where he worked as a custodian in a genetics laboratory.U. Police Chief Wayne Shepherd said preliminary results from an autopsy indicated the victim may have died from methanol poisoning.

The chief said Mertes reported to the labs in the Wintrobe Building about 6 a.m. on Oct. 10. "When he came to work he was feeling OK, but then he later got sick," he said. The victim went home and was later taken to Holy Cross Hospital.

"We're investigating from a safety standpoint," Shepherd said. "We're trying to determine what the exact cause of death was and where it happened."

Police officers, an industrial hygienist and investigators from the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected the laboratories, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary in the initial investigations, Shepherd said.

"We looked at a possible spill . . . but the amount in his body appeared much too high for that (for someone to inhale it)," the chief said.

Methanol has a latency period of up to 10 hours before it becomes an active agent, indicating Mertes may have been exposed to the methanol before coming to work.