September Deadly Month for College Students

Posted 10/7/2004 12:00 AM Updated 10/6/2004 10:08 PM

Vigil
Friends remember Samantha Spady, who was found dead at a
Colorado State fraternity house in September. By Evan Semon, The
Rocky Mountain News/AP

Five Binge-Drinking Deaths ‘Just the Tip of the
Iceberg’

By Robert Davis

USA TODAY

September has been deadly for binge-drinking college students

Five underclassmen in four states appear to have drunk themselves to
death, police say, after friends sent their pals to bed assuming that
they would “sleep it off.”

Some college presidents are promising to crack down on underage
drinking — four of the students were too young to drink legally.
Others have shut down fraternity houses where bodies were found.

But one expert calls those moves too little, too late. “It’s locking
the barn door after the horse has been stolen,” says Henry Wechsler, a
Harvard University researcher who has studied campus drinking. He says
schools with weak enforcement of drinking rules put students at greater
risk.

“The schools that have the greatest problems take the easiest
solutions,” he says. “They have educational programs and re-motivation
programs. But they don’t try to change the system. These deaths are just
the tip of the iceberg.”

In some college towns, drink specials at bars and loose enforcement of
liquor laws make it easier and cheaper for students to get drunk than to
go to a movie, Wechsler says. The result, research suggests, is 1,400
student deaths a year, including alcohol-related falls and car
crashes.

“Some schools enforce,” he says. “But others have a ‘don’t ask, don’t
tell’ policy. It’s a wink.”

Others say schools can’t stop a young adult who chooses to drink.

Drinking problems start in high school and are simply let loose in
college, says the American Council on Education, a Washington-based
advocacy group that represents about 1,800 colleges and universities.

“Shouldn’t colleges crack down on alcohol consumption?” asks Sheldon
Steinbach, ACE’s general counsel. “They could. But you would be turning
the college into a quasi-police state and impairing their ability to grow
up.”

All of these students, last seen drinking heavily, were found
dead:

  • Samantha Spady, 19, of Beatrice, Neb., was found Sept. 5 in a
    Colorado State University fraternity.
  • Lynn Gordon Bailey Jr., 18, of Dallas, was found Sept. 17 at a
    University of Colorado fraternity house.
  • Thomas Ryan Hauser, 23, a junior from Springfield, Va., was found
    Sept. 19 in his apartment near Virginia Tech.
  • Blae Adam Hammontree, 19, of Medford, Okla., was found Sept. 30 in
    a fraternity house at the University of Oklahoma.
  • Bradley Barrett Kemp, 20, of McGehee, Ark., was found at home
    Saturday at the University of Arkansas.

The official cause of death has not been determined for the three most
recent cases.

Colleges with large Greek systems and big, highly competitive
intercollegiate athletic programs have the highest rates of student binge
drinking, Wechsler says. “There is a culture of drinking on campuses that
must change,” says Patty Spady, Samantha’s mother. “People put her in a
room thinking that she would sleep it off.”

But chug too many drinks — Samantha is said to have consumed up
to 40 beers or shots of vodka the night she died — and the blood
alcohol level continues to rise even after a person passes out. Alcohol
kills when the person is too intoxicated to maintain his own airway. He
then suffocates on his own vomit or on an otherwise harmless obstruction,
such as a pillow.

“These kids don’t know this,” says Spady, who set up a foundation
(SAMspadyfoundation.org) to find ways to prevent deaths on campus.
“Drunks cannot take care of drunks.” Spady urges students to “stay sober
to take care of your friends.”

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