UNIVERSITY PARK — In response to the death of freshman Joseph Dado, student groups on the Penn State campus Tuesday were meeting to find better ways to teach the youngest students the dangers of drinking and the importance of safety.
University officials and police aren’t saying whether alcohol played a role in the accident that killed Dado. The 18-year-old, who was last seen 3 a.m. Sunday, was found Monday evening after having fallen about 15 feet into an exterior concrete stairwell.
County Coroner Scott Sayers Tuesday said that Dado died of a severe head trauma caused by an accidental fall. University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said police are awaiting a toxicology report, which could take four to six weeks.
“We, of course, have some information from those people that were interviewed, but we really need to wait for toxicology,” Powers said.
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Police will be looking into how Dado obtained any alcohol he may have consumed, spokesman Bill Mahon said.
“He was a minor and, as in any case, we’ll be looking into that,” Mahon said. “There’s certainly a lot of rumors and so as part of any investigation, they’ll be looking into that.”
Members of the student body who rallied first to search for Dado, then to memorialize him, gathered Tuesday to make sure his death isn’t in vain.
“I think that (students) should keep it in mind for the rest of their college career,” said Zachary Meli, vice president for communications for the Interfraternity Council. “It’s really important they realize what alcohol can do to you and what consuming it in a quick period of time can do.”
Meli said the council would meet, beginning Tuesday night, to come up with an organized plan for getting that message out. They’ll be looking at what has worked at other universities and what would be best for Penn State. A student government group said it was planning a similar effort.
“We need to find a way we can better educate people of those risks,” Meli said. “This can happen to anyone.”
Whether alcohol was involved or not, Powers said, safety needs to be promoted. Dado, who was last seen leaving a fraternity about 3 a.m. Sunday, was not found for 39 hours.
“You should not go off on your own,” Powers said. “You should have a buddy with you. Students, when they’re out in the evening, should always keep safety in their mind and that’s whether or not there’s alcohol involved.”
For one student in Dado’s engineering class, the message hit home.
“I came in and saw an empty seat,” said freshman Tom Geeza. “That was kind of eye-opening. Anyone who has half of a brain will think about it next time they get stupidly drunk. It gives insight into what it means to be the No. 1 party school, and that there can be casualties along the line.”
Monday evening, two hours after a maintenance worker found Dado’s body 75 yards from the on-campus fraternity, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims addressed students who had gathered expecting to help search for Dado.
He told them they should “remember Joe” when they found themselves or friends in risky situations.
Sims cautioned that anyone who binge drinks needs to be aware of the risks.
“If any tragedy causes our students to reflect on their own behaviors,” he said, “their sense of personal or community responsibility, or the impact of the choices they make, its meaning might be found.”
Whether it will change behaviors remains to be seen, but it was the talk of campus Tuesday.
“All my friends said this makes them not want to drink,” said freshman Katherine Brandt. “Being a freshman, you get so excited to come here, and your parents have a hard time with you going away. But he’s never coming back. We’re the No. 1 party school, but you don’t hear about stuff like this. This really puts it into perspective. It’s sad to see the effects of it.”
But with a big football weekend on the horizon, and the party-school label held up as a badge of honor by many, others were more skeptical.
“This will scare some people,” said freshman Chris Brittingham, “but not everyone. When they see something like this, they just don’t think it’s going to be them.”
“When push comes to shove, I’m pretty sure on Friday and Saturday, people will be going out,” said sophomore Andrew Rosenbloom. “Maybe they’ll at least walk home with a friend, but I don’t see anything changing.”