Special Reports

Update: Student's death ruled accidental

Students stop to view a makeshift memorial for Joe Dado along Pollock Road on Tuesday, September 22, 2009. CDT/Christopher Weddle
Students stop to view a makeshift memorial for Joe Dado along Pollock Road on Tuesday, September 22, 2009. CDT/Christopher Weddle

UNIVERSITY PARK — The Centre County coroner has ruled that the death of an 18-year-old Penn State freshman, found in the stairwell of a research building after being missing for almost 40 hours, was accidental.

The cause of Joseph Dado's death, according to Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers, was head trauma.

University officials say Dado appears to have fallen about 15 feet from a ledge that connects the Hosler Building on campus to another building. He hit his head when he landed at the bottom of an exterior stairwell that leads into a mechanical room, officials said.

Dado was last seen leaving the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at 319 N. Burrowes, at about 3 a.m. Sunday. The Hosler building is about 75 yards away.

Police are also investigating whether alcohol played a role in the accident, and whether someone gave Dado alcohol or some other drug or whether he was given alcohol at Phi Gamma Delta, university officials said.

“All indications are that this is accidental,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs, noting that police are still conducting an investigation. “For the time being, this is really a terrible tragedy for the family, who is in great pain.”

Students have been gathering at a makeshift memorial along Pollock Road, paying their respects.

Readers have been signing a guestbook linked on our Lion Country Web site. Among the posts:

"This is another example of how precious one's life can be. I heard your story, Joe and I am deeply saddened by your loss. One of your friends lives on my floor here at Gannon University, where some students are also feeling the pain. Rest in peace Joe Dado." -- Andrew, Erie, Pennsylvania

In just about a month at Penn State, the freshman engineering student from Latrobe seemed to have made a lot of friends.

About 300 people had gathered Monday night around police tape at the Hosler and Steidle buildings, which connect and sit on the corner of Pollock and Burrowes roads.

Another 150 people showed up at the HUB-Robeson Center where a search team had been scheduled to meet.

“There’s obviously a great deal of heartbreak over the loss of anyone, especially a freshman,” said University Park Undergraduate Association President Gavin Keirans. “The Penn State community looks out for their own. ... It’s pretty amazing.”

In the 39 hours he was missing, 5,100 students grouped on Facebook. com to spread the word. Family and friends were also helping to hand out fliers and search areas on campus.

His family attended his classes to spread the word, all while police from Penn State, State College and the state were combing through campus and the town searching for Dado.

But a state police helicopter search Monday afternoon and foot searches conducted by police, friends and family turned up nothing until a worker from the Office of Physical Plant was called to Hosler Building to repair a broken pipe. Dado was found on concrete near the mechanical room entrance in an area, Sims said, where “you just wouldn’t go.”

Indications at the scene showed Dado may have been trying to climb something, Sims said.

“A misstep is all it takes,” Sims told students.

Sims said the Dado family was “touched” by the outpouring of community support.

“It’s tragic the effort is not successful as we would have hoped,” Sims said, addressing a group of students who had gathered to search for Dado about two hours after he was found. “It says a lot about Penn State students that all of you very quickly answered the call to help one of your peers.”

Sims asked the group to help squash rumors that were circulating campus about the accident, and said this is an opportunity to remember to always “be a friend to a friend,” especially when there are risky circumstances involved.

Counseling sessions were planned in Tener Hall on Monday night.