Use back arrow to return to previous page

Return to Facts Menu

Federal law aimed at preventing such tragedies

Many others suffered a fate similar to Sean and Lee-see details


    North Country Public RadioSeries: "Drinking and Safety on College Campuses"-6/18/07
  Two Paul Smith's students' bodies found after canoeing accident-5/6/07
Sean Cornell, 20 Manchester in mourning-5/8/07

Lee Walker, 18

Coroner: Ex-BBA student drowned-5/8/07
May 4, 2007 Alcohol played a factor in recent local deaths-5/19/07

Paul Smith’s College

Charges looming in May PSC drownings-11/15/07
  Does this need to happen to Sean and Lee and others

North Country Public RadioSeries: "Drinking and Safety on College Campuses"

"A rash of alcohol-related fatalities among students at North Country colleges has brought to the fore a debate about the role of alcohol in campus social life, and how educational institutions can best balance the ethical, legal and public safety issues involved in maintaining a community of students, most of whom are underage, but many of whom are of legal age to drink. Brian Mann talks to North Country students, educators, and law enforcement officials in this three-part series."

Note to media

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

BREAKING NEWS: Two Paul Smith's students' bodies found after canoeing accident

By REBECCA STEFFAN, Enterprise Staff Writer                                     Top of  page

Posted on: Sunday, May 6, 2007

PAUL SMITHS — The bodies of two Paul Smith’s College students from Vermont have been found after a search that began after their canoe capsized late Friday night on Lower St. Regis Lake, near the campus.

A state police dive team recovered the body of Sean W. Cornell, 20, of Manchester Center, Vt., on Sunday in the lake off the shore of Paul Smith’s College. The body of 18 year-old Lee Walker, of Enosburg Falls, Vt., was found by divers late Saturday afternoon.

Cornell and Walker were part of a six-member canoeing party that took two canoes onto the lake around 11 p.m. Friday. The students were reportedly heading to Peter’s Rock on the opposite shore from campus and were about 100 feet out into the water when their canoes capsized. Friday was the last day of classes before exams.

Several PSC students reported hearing shouts coming from the lake and rushed to the shore, helping four of the six students out of the water, said Ken Aaron, director of communications for the college.

Three of the students who fell into the lake were taken to the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, where they were treated and released. Their names have not been released.

A gathering this morning on campus honored Cornell and Walker and showed appreciation for the work done by the New York State Police and other agencies that responded to the incident, as well as the swift actions by Paul Smith’s students who were the first on the scene Friday night.

About 900 people attended the service. Paul Smith’s College enrolls about 850 students.

‘‘Our entire community is deeply saddened by this loss,’’ said John Mills, the college’s president. ‘‘Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of both these young men.’’

On Saturday afternoon, the mood on campus was somber. Several students lined the shores in a quiet vigil while state police, forest rangers and local fire departments searched for the missing students under the water and by helicopter. Members of the Paul Smiths/Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department blocked off the main entrance to the campus and were only letting students and faculty in.

At about the same time the canoes capsized, a powerboat hundreds of yards away also flipped, but the occupants were safe and did not require treatment, according to Aaron.

Both accidents are under investigation by state police.

Contact Rebecca Steffan at 891-2600 ext. 25 or


Manchester in mourning                                                    Top of  page

Bennington BannerArticle Launched:05/08/2007 03:03:31 AM EDT

Tuesday, May 8

MANCHESTER — News that a 2004 Burr and Burton Academy graduate was one of two Paul Smith's College students who drowned in a canoe accident late Friday has plunged the local community into a state of mourning.

Sean Cornell, 20, of Manchester Center, had gone with five other students at Paul Smith's, located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, to Lower St. Regis Lake around 11 p.m. Friday night.

According to reports posted on the Paul Smith's Web site, the young men were going out to an island in the lake to make a bonfire in celebration of their last day of classes. They took two canoes out on the frigid lake to reach the island, but the two boats capsized about 100 yards away from the shore.

Canoe overturned

Four of the students swam to shore; Cornell and Lee Walker, 19, of Enosburg Falls, drowned. Walker's body was recovered by divers late Saturday afternoon, and a New York State Police scuba team found Cornell's body on Sunday.

"Our entire community is deeply saddened by this loss," Paul Smith's President John Mills said in a statement Sunday. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of both these young men."

"We're responding with great pain," BBA Head Master Charles Scranton said Monday. "We had remarks made at this morning's assembly, followed by a profound moment of silence."

Scranton and other administrators are insuring that psychological services are available for those students who have been affected by news of Cornell's death.

"We're providing counseling for those kids there who need it and responding as we see fit," said Scranton. "There are people here that knew him well, or siblings of kids that were in Sean's class ... it's had a huge impact."

Compounding the tragedy for Scranton is the fact that his family and the Cornells are next-door neighbors.

"I knew Sean well, in several different capacities," said Scranton, "and he was just a wonderful kid. Sean loved life, he loved people, and most of all he loved the outdoors."

Cornell went to Paul Smith's to study forestry and would have graduated with an associate's degree in urban tree management next week.

Brooks Brown, Cornell's stepfather, spoke Monday about the ordeal he and his wife and Cornell's mother, Mimi Brown, had endured over the past 48 hours.

"The Manchester Police Department came to our door at 5:45 a.m. Saturday, woke us up," said Brooks Brown. After telling the Browns about the accident, the police advised them to call the school.

"I spoke to the president, who said that the state police at sunrise were bringing in a helicopter. ...They'd done a perimeter sweep by the shore and found nothing. They were putting dog teams in, doing a land search, and, later, would be bringing in dive teams," said Brooks Brown. "He also said that they had switched from rescue to recovery mode. At that point, we called our family, and ... we headed up to Paul Smith's."

After being briefed by the administration, the Browns and Cornell's father, Gavin Cornell, went down to the lake's shoreline and waited. At 5 p.m., Walker's body was found and, shortly thereafter, the search was suspended due to waning sunlight.

"By then, we decided we needed to be back in the comfort of our own homes, with our families," said Brooks Brown. Back in Manchester Center, many friends and family members gathered to grieve and offer each other support.

Friends gather

"They're coming from everywhere," said Denise Cornell, Sean's stepmother. "Some of (Sean's high school classmates) are coming from California, from Virginia, even from Spain to be here for his family.

"There's been an outpouring in the surrounding community ... it's a real affirmation of who he was," said Denise Cornell.

Brooks Brown said Sean was an avid lacrosse player and an all-star football receiver who also enjoyed spelunking in his spare time.

"He was just a regular guy who took what life dealt him and made that into an extraordinary life and made himself, in the process, into an extraordinary person," said Brooks Brown.

There will be a public memorial service Friday at 2 p.m. at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Additionally, the Browns and Cornells are setting up a memorial scholarship fund at BBA in Sean's name.

"It's a perpetual fund," said Brooks Brown. "We're going to ask people to make a commitment to contribute on a yearly basis to that fund."

The BBA men's lacrosse team will be wearing Sean's retired number "19" on their helmets for rest of year.

Rebecca Robinson can be reached at


Coroner: Ex-BBA student drowned                Top of  page

May 8, 2007

MANCHESTER — The death of Sean W. Cornell was caused by an accidental drowning, according to Franklin County Coroner Richard Keough.

Cornell, 20, of Manchester, was one of two students at Paul Smith's College in New York who died after falling into Lower St. Regis Lake on Friday night. It was the last day of classes for the semester at Paul Smith's.

Cornell and Lee Walker, 18, of Enosburg Falls, were with four other students when their canoes overturned just off shore from the small college's campus in the Adirondack Mountains of Northeastern New York.

Cornell's body was found Sunday and Walker was found on Saturday afternoon. Some of the other four students were treated after returning to shore, but none was seriously injured.

Cornell graduated from Burr and Burton Academy in 2004 as part of the school's largest graduating class.

On Monday, students, some of whom attended school with Cornell, were told of his death at a morning assembly.

"The tone at school today has been really down. I think that's a sign of how popular Sean was that he was out of school for a few years and the news still had that kind of affect," said Assistant Headmaster Steven Houghton.

Houghton, who was one of Cornell's coaches in football, remembered him as a "rough and tumble, hard-nosed player" in football and lacrosse.

Cornell was a star athlete at Burr and Burton who was named to a Division III All-Star second team in 2002 as a wide receiver and in 2003 to the first team as a kicker and second team again as a wide receiver.

Houghton said he was a "tremendously gifted kicker" who had a "booming leg."

Cornell was also a midfielder on the Burr and Burton Bulldog's state champion lacrosse teams in 2002 and 2003.

"He was really aggressive. He was like our bull out there," said Gunner Tuttle, a senior from Dorset, who played as a freshman alongside Cornell.

Kathi Bierwirth, athletic director at Burr and Burton, said Cornell had a reputation for being able to come up with the ball on the team.

The boys lacrosse team recognized a moment of silence before their game on Monday against Greenwich, N.Y.

Bierwirth said many of the players plan to honor Cornell by wearing the number 19 on their helmets until at least the end of the season in June.

Houghton and Bierwirth said Cornell had been very popular at the school. "That entire senior class was such a great group of kids. It was a big circle of friends and Sean was always at the middle of it," Bierwirth said.

A memorial service is scheduled for Friday at Southern Vermont Arts Center. The center's director, Christopher Madkour, said the service was being hosted for family and close friends.

Contact Patrick McArdle at

Alcohol played a factor in recent local deaths                Top of  page

By MIKE LYNCH, Enterprise Staff Writer

Posted on: Saturday, May 19, 2007

SARANAC LAKE — Alcohol played a factor in the deaths of four men who died in two separate accidents in the Tri-Lakes area within the past month.

State police said Friday that 23-year-old Lake Placid resident Henry Philip Wharton had a blood alcohol content of .18 percent when he crashed his car in the early morning hours of April 18 on state Route 73 across from the Mackenzie-Intervale Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. Wharton also had marijuana in his system, state police said.

The car accident killed Wharton and passenger 23-year-old Aaron M. Green, of Lake Placid.

Paul Smith’s College students Sean Cornell and Lee Walker, who drowned May 4 on Lower St. Regis Lake, had BACs of .165 percent and .107 percent, state police said.

The two men were part of a six-person party that was travelling in two canoes heading back from Peter’s Rock on the opposite shore of Lower St. Regis Lake from the college campus. About 100 feet offshore, both canoes capsized.

Not one member of the six-person canoe party was wearing a life jacket, nor were there any on-board when their two canoes capsized around 11 p.m. Friday, May 4 near the Paul Smith’s College campus, state police said.

Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 26 or


Charges looming in May PSC drownings
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer        

SARANAC LAKE — Although no names are being released at this time, the investigation surrounding the drowning of two Paul Smiths College students in May is continuing.

The case went before a Franklin County grand jury Nov. 8, and charges may be brought within a month, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne.

Champagne said, however, that no charges were going to be brought regarding the drowning itself.

“We are focused on investigating whoever supplied them the alcohol,” he said. “We are not commenting on it at the moment because of the stage of the investigation.”

Champagne said he expects the investigatory stage to be finished, and an official statement issued, in the first week of December.

Sean W. Cornell, 20, of Manchester, Vt, and Lee Walker, 18, of Enosburg Falls, were canoeing with four other students on Lower St. Regis Lake late on Friday, May 4, when their canoe capsized. None of the students were wearing life jackets, according to police. Students on shore said they heard the student’s cries for help and were able to rescue four of the students, but couldn’t find Cornell and Walker. Walker’s body was found May 5 and Cornell’s on May 6.

Franklin County Coroner Ron Keough ruled that the immediate cause of death was drowning. However, state police said that alcohol was a factor in their deaths. The students had reportedly been drinking at Peter’s Rock, a peninsula across the lake from the college and a popular party spot with a student-built leanto and fire pit, with other students to celebrate the last day of classes. Cornell and Walker both had blood alcohol levels above .08 when they drowned.

“The district attorney is continuing his investigation and we have been cooperating fully,” said Ken Aaron, head of the press office at the college. He said that the school is doing what it can to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“I think we’ve certainly increased our alcohol awareness and alcohol education efforts,” he said. “We review those every year and they’re always changing. We’ve stepped it up.

“I think we’d say any year that underaged alcohol use is a chronic problem,” he continued. “There is no silver bullet. But we do what we can to educate people. We want to do our part, and we definitely have a part to play.”

Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26, or


Top of  page

Note to media

ACT NOW-Before Events Leave You With No Choice

Leave your comments on the CompelledToAct Blog


Concerned about the drinking culture on campuses?

This site provides information as to the seriousness of the problem.


In loving Memory of Kristine Guest