Death of Dr. Sled' in
Street Attack

Dr. Vladimir D. Sled', a research associate in the Johnson Foundation and the department of biochemistry/biophysics, in the School of Medicine, was killed late last Thursday evening, October 31. Dr. Sled' was stabbed to death as he tried to prevent the theft of the purse of his fiancée, Dr. Cecilia Hägerhäll, a Medical Center colleague with whom he was walking on the 4300 block of Larchwood Avenue around 11 p.m. They were attacked initially by a man, who was joined by a female accomplice. The two assailants jumped in a blue car that sped off, eastbound on Larchwood. Dr. Sled' was pronounced dead at 11:40 p.m. at the Penn Medical Center; Dr. Hägerhäll was treated and released.

"All of us in the Penn community are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Vladimir Sled', whose life was taken from us last night by a despicable and cowardly act," President Judith Rodin said Friday. "Dr. Sled' had immense talent and a bright, productive future, and we all suffer from this loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. The University of Pennsylvania Police Department is working intensively with the Philadelphia Police Department to assist in the investigation of this horrific crime, identify and arrest those responsible, and prosecute them to the full extent of the law."

Dr. Sled', who had just turned 38 on October 28, had been at Penn since 1992. He worked in Dr. Tomoko Ohnishi's lab, co-authoring several papers on bioenergetics and some studies on mitochondrial respiratory chain disease. She called him "brilliant and dedicated, and such a nice person." Dr. Les Dutton, chair of biochemistry/biophysics, described Dr. Sled' as "a wonderful colleague. He was a gentleman and also a gentle man. He had a very wonderful dry sense of Russian humor."

Dr. Sled' took his B.S. in 1981 and his Ph.D. in 1985, both in biophysics, from Moscow State University. His thesis was on kinetic and thermodynamic characterization of quinone acceptors of the photosynthetic reaction center in chromatophores of nonsulfur purple bacteria. Before coming to the U.S., Dr. Sled' was a junior research fellow at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, USSR Ministry of Health in Moscow, from 1985-87. He was also a research fellow at the Institute of Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1988-92. He served as the Ph.D. advisor for two post-graduate students, 1989-92, and was a lecturer for a biochemistry graduate course on Enzyme Kinetics in 1991. From 1984 to 1991, Dr. Sled' served as a member of the Organizing Committee of the Annual School-Conference "Membrane Biology" (Zvenigorod Biology Research Station, Russia).

Dr. Sled' is survived by his 12-year-old son and his many friends and colleagues. A memorial service is being planned by the department.

Remembering Volodya

I still can not believe what happened to Dr.Vladimir D. Sled' (nickname, Volodya) on Halloween night on his way back home from the laboratory. His family, colleagues, friends, and all of the University are deeply saddened by his tragic death by brutal violence which occurred very close to Penn campus. This is also an enormous loss not only to the research activities in my own laboratory, but also to several important collaborations with other research groups on campus and in other intra- and international collaborative groups with different expertise.

Volodya joined my group in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Medical School, in 1992 from the Department of Biology, Moscow State University, as a research associate. He had seven years' research experience in the field of mitochondrial bioenergetics in Moscow prior to his arrival to the Penn. He was a gifted and first-rate researcher and studied the conversion of energy released by the respiratory oxidation of the food molecules to ATP (a common currency in energy metabolism) which is usable for various needs of our body. He learned cryogenic electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) techniques in my laboratory, and became one of the major forefront researchers in the bioenergetics field, with EPR expertise in addition to other spectroscopic and thermodynamic techniques. This is a powerful technique for the studies of the functional role of respiratory chain components such as flavin, iron-sulfur protein, ubiquinone. He published about two dozen first-rate papers. I obtained the NIH Fogarty International collaborative grant for six years, with Dr. Andrei Vinogradov (chairman of the biology department, Moscow State University); as co-P.I. Volodya has been a major player to the unraveling of the energy conversion mechanism in the first segment of the respiratory chain, connecting collaborating efforts of these two laboratories in Moscow and Philadelphia. He was also actively involved in the studies of the energy conversion mechanism utilizing simpler bacterial models, in combination with molecular biolgical techniques.

Despite the fact that Volodya read so widely, and was so knowledgeable on a wide spectrum of biological problems, he was a relatively quiet scientist and did not talk about his vast accumulation of knowledge. Only when I asked questions would he start to open his mouth to express his well-thought, keen opinions and ideas. I found it a pleasure to discuss in depth with him various topics of common interest.

Volodya behaved as a knightly gentleman, always kind to everyone. He often escorted me to my parking lot after dark, and offered to carry my bag. I believe that he was stabbed during his attempt to protect his colleague and fiancée, a post doc from Sweden, Dr. Cecilia Hägerhäll, from the attacker's harsh hits--not to prevent the purse-snatching.

We all miss him. Perhaps we will miss him forever. I often warned him not to stay in the lab too late, because it is not at all safe to walk West Philadelphia in the middle of the night. It was hard for him to follow this advice. He was much too dedicated to science.

Is there any way to prevent another incident of losing precious life?

We should all bring our ideas together, and discuss what we could do. For example, we must improve the escort service. Since we have to call the van, and wait for 30-60 minutes, not many people want to use it. Can we make the escort van like an airport shuttle bus? If the bus left every half hour from the designated locations, up until midnight, it would be far more convenient and provide greater safety to everybody.

We could have a short course for increasing awareness on how to protect ourselves, which might include lecture, experiences, or some practice on how to behave when attacked.

Let's make our campus and its neighborhood safer! This would be the best way to see that the precious life of Volodya is not wasted.

--Tomoko Ohnishi, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics


Volume 43 Number 11
November 5, 1996

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