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Alcohol kills students in many ways

The recent alcohol-related deaths at Louisiana State University and MIT have focused national attention on underage and binge drinking, which in numerous ways have contributed to the tragic deaths of young people.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, alcohol poisoning killed 375 young people ages 15-24 in 1994, the latest year for which figures are available. In 1996, 2,315 people between 15 and 20 years old died in alcohol-related car crashes. The situation was even worse 15 years ago, when 5,380 youths aged 15-20 died in alcohol-related crashes.

A search through the World Wide Web archives of the Chronicle of Higher Education and Boston newspapers found the stories of how at least 17 young people died in 1996 and 1997. Alcohol affected the judgment and abilities of these 17, who died by fire, drowning, falling, choking on their vomit, accident, bleeding to death and alcohol poisoning in eight US states. Here is a brief report on their tragedies, in chronological order.

  • Radford, VA, February 1996--Christopher Mirch, a senior at Radford University, had a blood-alcohol level of .25, more than three times the drunk driving level of .08 in Virginia, when firefighters found him unconscious in a bathroom after his off-campus house accidentally caught fire at 2am. He died of smoke inhalation.
  • Brunswick, ME, April 1996--Cameron Brett, 20, a sophomore at the University of Maine, had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit for driving when he fell three stories to his death while trying to climb onto the roof of Bowdoin College's Chi Delta Phi fraternity.
  • Chapel Hill, NC, May 1996--Four students with blood-alcohol levels of .14 to .20 were among five students killed when fire engulfed the Phi Gamma Delta house at the University of North Carolina. Fire officials suspect the fire was started by a cigarette tossed into a basement wastebasket.
  • Cohasset, MA, June 1996--Gregory Smith, 18, drove away from a drinking party at a local home and died when he crashed into a pole.
  • North Andover, MA, July 1996--Kyle Wentworth, 19, died when he was struck by a commuter train along the Merrimack River while playing an alcohol-fueled game of chicken.
  • Charlottesville, VA, October 1996--Elizabeth McGowan, a senior at the University of Virginia, had a blood-alcohol level of .25 when she died when a fire ripped through her off-campus apartment. She died of smoke inhalation after a smoke bomb, which had been tossed into her apartment by two friends as a joke earlier in the evening, smoldered and finally caught fire after the party had ended and she had fallen asleep.
  • Frostburg, MD, November 1996--John Eric Stinner, 20, a freshman at Frostburg State University, was found dead after drinking six to eight cups of beer and 12 to 14 shots of vodka at an unofficial, off-campus fraternity which had charged admission to its party. Seven students and a recent graduate of Frostburg State were charged with manslaughter in February 1997.
  • Oneonta, NY, May 1997--Robert Jordan, 22, of Plymouth, MA, a student at Hartwick College, drowned after falling into a river after a night of drinking.
  • Los Angeles, July 1997--Two UCLA members of Lambda Chi Alpha drowned in Lake Mead after a drinking party.
  • Baton Rouge, LA, August 1997--Benjamin D. Wynne, a sophomore at Louisiana State University and a new pledge at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, had a blood-alcohol level of .588 and died of alcohol poisoning after a "bid night" party organized by his fraternity at a local bar. Campus police were called to the fraternity at 1:30am and found about a dozen students passed out. Four students, including Mr. Wynne, were taken to hospitals by paramedics.
  • Amherst, MA, September 1997--Adam Prentice, 21, a junior, had a blood alcohol level of .12 when he tried to climb the glass roof of a greenhouse at the University of Massachusetts. He fell through the glass and bled to death.
  • North Andover, MA, September 1997--Meaghan Duggan, 17, died after drinking heavily at a private party. She fell down the cellar stairs and fractured her skull.
  • Boston, MA, September 1997--Scott Krueger, 18, a freshman at MIT living at Phi Gamma Delta, had a blood-alcohol level of .41 after a night of heavy drinking at the fraternity. He died of alcohol poisoning and choking on his own vomit.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.

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