Drinking Deaths Draw Attention to Old Campus Problem
November 9, 2004
By MINDY SINK
BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 5 - Lynn G. Bailey, 18, a freshman at
the University of Colorado here, spent his last night
chugging whiskey and wine as part of an initiation ceremony
with his fraternity brothers. Left by his friends to sleep
it off, he died from alcohol poisoning.
Less than two weeks earlier and an hour's drive away,
Samantha Spady, 19, a sophomore at Colorado State
University in Fort Collins, died of alcohol poisoning after
an evening out with friends in which she drank the
equivalent of 30 to 40 beers and shots.
In the aftermath of these deaths this fall, university
officials and community leaders are joining forces, rather
than pointing fingers, and are looking at how they can take
responsibility together to prevent alcohol abuse.
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," said a
Boulder city councilman and the deputy mayor, Tom Eldridge,
of the back-to-back deaths and years of tension built up in
neighborhoods adjacent to the campus.
The University of Colorado is still dealing with damage to
its image after accusations of rape involving football
players and recruits in recent years. Many of those
accusations also involved drinking, legally or not, at
private parties and bars. Some critics questioned what kind
of message it sent to students that the athletic director,
Dick Tharp, was also an owner of Liquor Mart, the town's
largest liquor store. Boulder and Fort Collins have a
history of alcohol-fueled riots and out-of-control parties
often combined with underage drinking despite years of the
universities' offering awareness programs, participating in
studies to reduce campus drinking, selective banning of
alcohol on campus and more punitive measures, like
suspension and calling parents.
"The community and the campus both have to admit they have
a problem," said Dr. Richard Yoast, director of an American
Medical Association program to reduce high-risk drinking.
"I think it's very important that they work together."
To that end, business owners, neighborhood associations,
student groups and college and community leaders are
One month after Mr. Bailey's death, the Boulder City
Council unanimously passed a resolution to review alcohol
licensing policies, zoning laws and code enforcement as
ways to decrease binge drinking by college students. In
Fort Collins, beer sales have been banned at football
games, alcohol consumption is banned in fraternities and
sororities, and a task force that includes the state's
lieutenant governor and the local police chief is studying
ways to reduce alcohol abuse.
"Certainly when we have an event like this, and when we
heard of the death in Fort Collins first, it's a lightning
rod and focuses our attention," said the Boulder mayor,
Mark Ruzzin. "Between the university and the city we have
evolved our thinking that students are community members,
so we've pretty much dissolved that jurisdictional line
between university and the city."
Both Ms. Spady and Mr. Bailey died in fraternity houses
after drinking at private parties or in the mountains all
evening. (The local chapters of those fraternities have
been closed indefinitely.) Ms. Spady had a blood alcohol
level of .436 percent, over five times the .08 percent that
is the national standard for drunken driving, and Mr.
Bailey's was .328. The minimum drinking age is 21; both
Experts say that these deaths represent just a fraction of
the problem of binge drinking on college campuses: there
have been three more alcohol poisoning deaths this year,
involving college students in Arkansas, Virginia and
Oklahoma, and a death at Colorado College in Colorado
Springs in which a student fell from a window after hours
of drinking. According to a 2002 study by the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately
1,400 college students 18 to 24 die annually as a result of
alcohol abuse. While most of those deaths are from traffic
accidents, about 300 are from unintentional injuries that
include alcohol poisoning.
"It's only through luck that we haven't had this become a
weekly occurrence," said Bob Maust, chairman of the
Standing Committee on Substance Abuse at the University of
Colorado. "I've been doing this for 35 years, and I see the
results every week of near misses."
Mr. Maust said that what was less studied or publicized
were the many college students who did survive near-lethal
intoxication after being rushed to emergency rooms by
A Boulder city councilman, Will Toor, said that while he
supported making changes to help prevent alcohol abuse, he
urged caution. "I am somewhat concerned that past attempts
- from the federal level to the local level - have made
things worse," Mr. Toor said, adding that campus
restrictions on drinking had pushed students away from
adult-controlled environments and even into drinking harder
One of the issues being looked at here is the high density
of liquor stores and bars around college campuses and the
frequent discounts the businesses offer.
"The cheaper the drinks, the more problems," Dr. Yoast
said, referring to offers of two for one or free drinks for
women at bars near campuses.
But some local business owners say they are being blamed
"I don't think the liquor stores are the problem," said
Russell Harverson, general manager of Rose Hill Wine and
Spirits, a store one block from campus here. "These kids
are away from home for the first time and not taught to
drink responsibly. We do our darnedest not to sell to
Mr. Harverson spoke as he was putting up signs for his shot
glasses and beer mugs with the college logo on them.
Brian Lane, 22, who stopped at the store on a Friday
morning to buy an 18-pack of beer for himself and friends
that night, said that his own drinking had decreased from
when he was a freshman and that more restrictions would not
solve the problem.
"I think it's more individual responsibility," Mr. Lane
said. "There is plenty of stuff to do in Boulder besides