STATE COLLEGE — Two students and two fraternities are charged with providing Penn State freshman Joseph Dado with beer, shots of vodka and whiskey and marijuana before the 18-year-old was “pointed in the right direction” of his dorm and began to walk home alone.
Dado never made it back to East Halls, where he’d lived just four weeks. He was found dead 39 hours later in a hidden exterior concrete stairwell only about 75 yards from where he was last seen.
The coroner found Dado died almost immediately of head trauma from a 15-foot fall, and had a blood alcohol level of .169 percent — more than twice the legal limit for a 21-year-old to drive.
Penn State and State College police, in a joint statement, said: “Based on the information and evidence discovered during this investigation, both police agencies have concluded that (the) excessive consumption of alcohol played a major role in this tragic incident.”
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As a result of the five-week investigation, the Phi Gamma Delta and Alpha Tau Omega fraternities are each charged with two misdemeanors related to giving alcohol and beer to Dado on Sept. 19 and 20.
Police say Dado visited both fraternities, and was last seen leaving Phi Gamma Delta, also known as Fiji, at about 3 a.m. Sept. 20. The same charges were filed
against Fiji member John “Jack” A. Townsend, a friend from Dado’s hometown of Latrobe, and student Jennifer E. Clifford, the sister of one of Dado’s dormmates. Police said they also gave alcohol to Dado that weekend.
The actions of all four “contributed to the tragedy,” said State College police Lt. Chris Fishel.
The charging papers lay out Dado’s actions in the hours leading up to his fall from the rooftop of a campus building into a moss-covered stairwell:
•On Sept. 18, police say, Jennifer Clifford, 21, of Gibsonia, bought Dado a bottle of vodka and gave it to her sister, Kelly Clifford, who lived in Dado’s dorm, to deliver to him.
Text messages on Dado’s phone showed he picked up the bottle from Kelly Clifford. Jennifer Clifford faces two additional misdemeanors for giving her sister a bottle of vodka, police said.
•Police say Dado used the vodka to “pre-game” with friends in his Tener Hall dorm, drinking shots and mixed drinks, around 8 p.m. on Sept. 19. With him were Matthew Ludwig, Ryan Stroup and Eric Hayes, all 18.
•At around 11:30 p.m., the group left the dorm, headed for Alpha Tau Omega, at 321 E. Fairmount Ave.
“Upon arrival, there was a party going on at the fraternity and they were allowed into the party because they were wearing IFC (Interfraternity Council) recruiting bracelets,” police wrote. “Once inside the fraternity, they all went to the basement and obtained a can of Natural Light beer that were in a plastic bin available for anyone to take.”
No one asked for identification, police wrote, and after touring the house with a fraternity member, the group returned to the basement to play beer pong, a drinking game. They each had four to five beers.
•Dado’s friends told police that about 1:15 a.m., Dado got a text message from Townsend, 21, inviting him to a party at Fiji, at 319 N. Burrowes Road on campus. While walking to Fiji, they stopped at Dado’s sister’s apartment to use the bathroom.
•They arrived at Fiji just before 2 a.m.
“The group were stopped at the door by a member of the fraternity, but were allowed into the fraternity after Joseph Dado told the fraternity member that he was friends with Jack Townsend,” police wrote.
Friends told police Dado met Townsend in his room and downed several shots of whiskey and smoked marijuana, all provided by Townsend.
•Around 2:20 a.m., the friends Dado spent most of the night with left Fiji “after Dado told them that he is staying longer,” court papers say. The next day, when they realized Dado was missing, Townsend told them he’d offered Dado a place to stay that night, but he refused, police wrote. Dado left Fiji around 3:30 a.m.
“Townsend reported that Dado was not sure where he was going and had to be pointed in the right direction when he left the fraternity,” police wrote.
Penn State spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said university police, along with Coroner Scott Sayers and District Attorney Michael Madeira, have concluded that Dado was alone when he fell and his death was accidental.
“I don’t know that anybody will ever be able to determine what was going through Joe Dado’s mind when he got up on that roof,” Mountz said.
Along with the misdemeanor charges — which usually result in probation and a fine of no less than $1,000 — Penn State’s Office of Judicial Affairs will also hold hearings on whether the four defendants violated the university’s code of conduct.
The IFC, which suspended the two fraternities when the investigation began, said Thursday that suspension will continue until the charges are resolved in court.
“Upon completion of the criminal court proceedings, the organizations will be referred to the IFC Peer Review Board, which will go through its procedures to determine any necessary sanctions in response to violation of IFC policy,” IFC President Luke Pierce said in a prepared statement.
In an interview, Pierce said the council will also address the broader problem of underage and binge drinking within fraternities in the next week.
Mountz said the problem of underage and binge drinking extends beyond Penn State.
“There is a lot of binge drinking here and across the nation and this is a result of that,” she said. “This is one of the problems that people don’t want to think about — that people get hurt and people die.”