Prosecutors: Lehigh student used chemicals to poison roommate's drinks, left racist graffiti

Yukai Yang, 22, facing charges, has student visa revoked

Yukai Yang, 22, is accused of trying to kill his roommate by poisoning while he was a student at Lehigh University. (Northampton County District Attorney)
Yukai Yang, 22, is accused of trying to kill his roommate by poisoning while he was a student at Lehigh University. (Northampton County District Attorney)

EATON, Pa. – A former Lehigh University student is accused of trying to kill his roommate over several months by poisoning his drinks, prosecutors said. He is also charged in connection to racist graffiti targeted at the roommate.

Yukai Yang, 22, was a chemistry major at the university, reports LehighValleyLive. He is accused of putting the chemical thallium in food, drinks, and mouthwash to poison his roommate, Juwan Royal, who is black.

Both students were seniors at the time and had lived together for several years without incident, according to The Morning Call newspaper.

“Mr. Royal was as dumbfounded by this as anyone else,” Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis told the paper. "He believed they had a fairly cordial relationship as roommates.”

Yang, who was an international student from China, is no longer attending the university and his student visa has been revoked, officials said. Royal has graduated, but continues to suffer physical effects from the poisoning.

The alleged poisoning occurred over several months, with the first known incident occurring in February. Royal told investigators he drank from a water bottle in his room and felt burning in his mouth. Royal then woke up Yang and told him what happened. While he was rinsing out his mouth, Yang reportedly said, "So the substance that they are putting in your drink is colorless, odorless and dissolved in water."

Police were called when Royal became sick again in March. Yang reportedly told responding officers that he believed someone was tampering with items in the room, indicating that a bottle of mouthwash and milk in the fridge had both changed color. Royal was taken to the hospital days later after experiencing vomiting and shaking, investigators said.

A week later, officers were called to the pair's room again, this time for racist graffiti and damage. Police said the N-word was written in black marker along with the words "get out of here." There was also damage done to Royal's TV, bed and desk.

This incident led investigators to seize Yang's computer and cellphone. Also around this time, Royal told police about the February incident and submitted to a blood test, which revealed high levels of thallium in his system.

Investigators spoke with Yang, who admitted to buying various chemicals on the internet, including thallium, with the intent to harm himself if he did poorly on exams. He also admitted to mixing the chemicals with food and drinks in the pair's fridge, according to prosecutors.

Yang is charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment, officials said. In connection with the graffiti, he was charged with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief.

Lehigh University released the following statement:

The Lehigh University Police Department has worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office on the investigation and will continue to do so. From the outset, our concern has been the health and safety of the victim of these alleged behaviors and, as such, Lehigh staff and faculty have been providing support, services and assistance.

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