Special Reports

Wristbands bought students admittance into party

Flowers were placed in makeshift memorial for Joe Dado along Pollock Road on Tuesday, September 22, 2009. CDT/Christopher Weddle
Flowers were placed in makeshift memorial for Joe Dado along Pollock Road on Tuesday, September 22, 2009. CDT/Christopher Weddle

BELLEFONTE — It didn't take much for Joseph Dado and his freshman buddies to get into Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, where beer was flowing during a party hours before Dado's fatal fall from a campus rooftop.

All they had to do was flash wristbands sold to them by the Interfraternity Council to identify them as students who may be interested in pledging a fraternity.

“So, the IFC hands out wristbands to people possibly under 21 to get into places where alcohol is handed out, is that so?” asked Ron McGlaughlin, the attorney for one of two fraternities charged with serving booze to minors the night of Dado’s Sept. 20 death.

“Yes,” replied Dado’s friend, Matthew Ludwig, who testified at a preliminary hearing that he and his friends paid $10 for the wristbands and each consumed between three and four beers they took from the basement of Alpha Tau Omega, where they were playing beer pong after they were given a tour of the house.

“They had tubs set up on the ground around the room, and you could just grab them,” Ludwig said.

After a five-week joint police investigation into Dado’s death, State College and Penn State police accused two students and two fraternities,

ATO and Phi Gamma Delta, of giving the 18-year-old alcohol leading up to his tragic fall.

But Wednesday, Dado’s friends said only that they saw Dado have one shot of alcohol in the bedroom of a hometown friend, Jack Townsend, who lived at FIJI. There was no testimony that Dado or his friends drank anything provided by FIJI that night.

“That, if anything, was proven to be untrue today,’’ McGlaughlin said. “The fraternity had no involvement in providing him alcohol. The (police affidavit) dealt completely with Dado. I thought that’s what this was about.”

Townsend will face trial on a charge that he furnished alcohol to Dado for that incident. But District Judge Jonathan Grine said prosecutors only made their case for a furnishing charge against FIJI because they called a last-minute witness who said she was served a beer from a bar at the house the same night Dado visited. Her story wasn’t in the original charging papers.

Grine ruled there was enough evidence to show ATO provided Dado alcohol that night, despite their attorney’s claims that Dado and his friends took the beer without permission.

There was no bartender and no one checking identification, argued attorney Kathleen Yurchak.

“What they showed was 18 year olds invited themselves to beer in the basement,” she said. “There’s no one knowingly serving to 18 year olds.”

Each of Dado’s three friends, Ludwig and Eric Hayes, both 18, and Ryan Stroup, 19, told slightly different accounts of what happened that night. Their time-lines all included tailgating and going to the football game on Sept. 19, before eating dinner, drinking vodka in Dado’s room and then heading out to ATO and FIJI — stopping briefly at his sister’s downtown apartment to use the bathroom.

“I would hope that the IFC, if they want to avoid incidents like this, say ‘If you’re doing a rush it has to be dry,’ ” McGlaughlin said. “The IFC by doing this, in my mind has made this situation easier to happen.”

Around 4 a.m. Sept. 20, police say Townsend offered Dado a place to stay, but he refused, and so Townsend pointed the 18-year-old in the direction of his dorm. That was the last anyone saw him for 39 hours. A maintenance worker found his body about 6 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the bottom of a concrete exterior stairwell.

Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers said he died from head trauma and had a blood alcohol level of .169.

Yurchak asked each of Dado’s friends if they’d been charged with an underage drinking citation. Each said ‘no,’ but couldn’t explain why.

“They made a choice not to charge any of the individuals that were drinking, yet they charged the corporate entities,” Yurchak said.

State College Police Chief Tom King said simply having someone’s admission that they drank alcohol isn’t enough evidence for an underage citation.

McGlaughlin said it shows the police mentality of going after the institution instead of the person.

“There’s certainly an emphasis in this area to go after the frats,” he said. “They’re willing basically to look the other way with the person who’s drinking, their personal responsibility.”

Sara Ganim can be reached at 231-4616.