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Photos-Proximity of bon fire  to campus

Facts behind the Double Tragedy

The evidence establishes that Marra and JS did not undertake to stop the party; in fact, they adopted a hands-off approach, implying their acquiescence in the continuation of a dangerous activity that was already underway. (US District Court-12/18/07)

View the record and form your own judgment whether Paul Smith's College met the expectations of parents, students, and society for student safety.

This statement of facts was included in the plaintiff's brief submitted to the Federal Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit.  The events of the fatal night are primarily drawn from the District Court’s decision of December 18, 2007 with additional facts from the record included to provide “a view of all of the circumstances.”  The portions drawn from the District Court’s reciting of the facts are italicized, while the additional facts are in regular type.  The detail concerning  events occurring prior to February 5, 2005 were included in the record District Court record, but was not effectively brought to the Court's attention by counsel.

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Statement of the Facts in the Case[1]

Events occurring prior to February 5, 2005

Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences (“Paul Smith’s College” or “College”) is located in upstate New York, north of Saranac Lake in the Adirondack region.  The College borders Lower St. Regis Lake (the “Lake”), and many of the College’s main buildings face the Lake with the Lake as a central focal point.  The College owns much of the land around the lake, including Peter’s Rock, a peninsula directly across from the College’s boat landing.  Other than the College and a rustic lean-to on Peter’s Rock, the only development around the lake is a few largely seasonal residences on a dirt road in one corner of the Lake across from the campus (AA.-179; AA.-223-Sweeny Declaration; SAA.-158 &159).

Alcohol use by minors was a constant occurrence at the College during the period prior to February 5, 2005, and College officials were very much aware of the behaviors.  Incident reports reflect numerous and continuous interventions for campus alcohol violations through the fall semester of 2004 to the night of February 5, 2005.  Significant with these interventions was that many were inside designated wellness dormitories which are required to be substance free (SAA.-167; SAA.-117 & 118).  The interventions were not only numerous but constant throughout the fall 2004 semester indicating diligence by Safety Officers and certain student resident assistants.  However, the extent of necessary interventions demonstrates a failure by College officials and policymakers to send a significant message that the College was serious about enforcing violations of the Student Conduct Code.  Safety Officer JS expressed frustration as to how Toni Marra, Director of Resident Life at the College, often undermined the Safety Officers’ efforts in addressing student safety and behavior issues (SAA.-78; SAA.-95).  Enforcement was inconsistent with JS stating that “everyone had their own approach to an alcohol incident” (SAA.-93).  Marra exercised her position to overrule the judgment of the Safety Officers who deferred to her instructions (SAA.-80).  Uncertain lines of authority further diminished the Safety Officer’s effectiveness (AA. 199; SAA.-46, bottom-identifies Marra as supervisor).  Students were often disrespectful and even abusive to the Safety Officers (SAA.-167 to SAA.-175).

Students viewed the lake as a safety zone, free from meaningful College intervention and noted the regularity of such use (SAA.-139; SAA.-104 to 107, confirmed by DRSUF #24; SAA.-32; SAA.-80 to SAA.-84).  One underage student resident assistant for a wellness dormitory noted: “you try to have fun when you could, and that was one way we could have fun, was have a fire on the lake, hang out with everybody, and have a carefree night” (SAA.-104).  Another student testified to attending a smaller party on the lake the weekend prior to February 5, 2005 (SAA.-133 (Lake parties the two prior weekends); SAA.-32).

Marra and Safety Officers witnessed a bonfire party on the lake Friday night, February 4/5, 2005 (SAA.-163).  Included in such activity was a truck doing “donuts” on the frozen Lake (SAA.-65, confirmed by DRSUF #1; SAA.-163).  Given the College’s recognized jurisdictional concerns, the Safety Officers contacted the New York State Police.  When the State Police arrived on campus, the bonfire was quickly extinguished and the individuals on the Lake dispersed.  The State Police Officer scanned the lake but saw no activity (SAA.-80 to 83; SAA.-45).  According to Safety Officer JS’s statement during the State Police investigation, “after searching the lake, Trooper Brown told us (Campus Security) that if we observed any unsafe or illegal behavior that we should contact the State Police immediately” (SAA.-45).[2] 

After the State Police left, Marra and the Safety Officers witnessed a truck erratically entering the parking lot.  Marra and the Safety Officers confronted the driver and saw that the student driver was extremely intoxicated. The smell of beer was evident and beer cans were present (SAA.-66; SAA.-79 & 80; confirmed by DRSUF #1; SAA.-163).  The student stated that “he was over across the lake drinking a few beers near the bomb fire with friends” (SAA.-163)  Although the College was completing a week dealing with a student death in a truck accident while driving under the influence, Marra declined to call in the State Police (SAA.-80; SAA.-67 to 69).

Events leading to the Deaths of Rau and Guest

Sometime in late January or early February of 2005, Joshua Rau, a sophomore at Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences in Franklin County, New York, invited three of his Pennsylvania school classmates and Kristine Guest (who Rau knew through Guest’s roommate who was one of Rau’s former classmates from Pennsylvania) (AA.-46 & 47; AA.- 82 to 84) to come and visit him to celebrate his twentieth birthday.  At the time, Guest, like Rau, was twenty years old and was a sophomore at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut.  The other three women included Guest’s roommate, another Quinnipiac student from Pennsylvania, and a third Pennsylvania friend attending Northeastern University (AA.-83 to 84; AA.-47 to 48).  On the night of February 4, 2005, Guest and the Pennsylvania friends stayed at Northeastern where Guest used the occasion to dine with friends from Simmons College where she spent her freshman year.  Thus, on the morning of Saturday, February 5, 2005, Guest and the three other women drove from Northeastern University in Boston to Paul Smith’s College.

Guest and her friends arrived at Paul Smith’s College at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.  Upon their arrival, they freshened up and then went to dinner in the town of Saranac Lake with Rau.  None of the party consumed any alcoholic beverages at dinner, or while in Saranac Lake.  The group returned to Rau’s dorm room at Paul Smith’s College at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., at which point Rau prepared a mixed drink, or punch, consisting of Jagermeister, peach Schnapps, and pineapple juice.  The concoction was a specialty of Rau’s; he had prepared the same drink for his Pennsylvania friend during a previous visit to Quinnipiac during the fall of 2004.  The group of friends hung out in Rau’s dorm room, and passed the time by playing a drinking game called “checkers.”  The game was played much like ordinary checkers, except that shot glasses filled with the Jagermeister concoction were substituted in place of the usual red and black checker pieces.  Under the rules of the game, a player was required to drink the contents of the shot glass.  The participants grouped into teams to play.  Both Guest and Rau participated in the game of checkers, however, the extent of Guest’s involvement is uncertain given that post-mortem tests showed her blood alcohol level too low to measure (SAA.-185).

At around 10:00 p.m. after the game of checkers had wound down, Rau, Guest, and their friends walked down to the frozen shore of the Lower St. Regis Lake (the “Lake”).  The Lake abuts the southwest side of the College campus and is about fifteen steps from the entrance to Rau’s dormitory, Clinton Hall.  The group brought the remainder of the Jagermeister-based mixed drink with them to the Lake in Nalgene bottles.

There was a bonfire out on the frozen Lake, and Rau, Guest, and the others walked out to join the people who had gathered there.  The bonfire had been built by other students from Clinton Hall at around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. independent from Rau’s plans that weekend (SAA.-133; SAA.-22)Given the location of the eventual fire, such preparation was in full view of campus grounds on a main section of the campus and directly visible from Clinton Hall and other dormitories and buildings (SAA.-35; SAA.-57; SAA.-109 to 110; SAA.-129; SAA.-23). The wood for the fire was primarily obtained from the College’s Forestry Cabin (SAA.-110 to 111).   The bonfire around which the students congregated was approximately 200 feet from the shore.  The pyre was visible from the campus, but the party was not audible from inside the campus dormitories but was audible from many points on campus including outside Lakeside Hall where Marra spends the night while on duty (AA.-205 & 206; AA.-107; AA.-63 to 65).  The bonfire burned continuously throughout the night with students continuously feeding it with wood (SAA.-109 & 110; SAA.-34; SAA.-133 to 135). Paul Smith’s College does not own the lake; thus, the bonfire was not on College property.

According to the recollection of one witness, when the group reached the bonfire shortly after 10:00 p.m. no one there appeared to be overly intoxicated.  Rau, Guest, and their friends were feeling happy and/or “buzzed.”  Rau and Guest were at the bonfire on and off between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 3:30 a.m.  Given the cold, frequent trips to the dormitories were necessary (AA.-95; AA.-55 & 56; AA.-75; SAA.-110).  Like the other revelers, they returned to the campus for warmth from time to time, some taking snowmobile rides to return to campus grounds (AA.-130 & 131).  The party was a raucous affair.  Between eighty and one hundred people were in attendance; alcohol was present in abundance (one underage resident assistant admitted drinking at least 15 beers in a four-hour span (SAA.-140 & 141); people threw cups of gasoline onto the fire; approximately ten snowmobiles were riding on the Lake; sometimes at high rates of speed; and students were intoxicated, some of them to the point that their voices rang out in shouts.  In short, to at least one observer, the party was out of hand and to another “out of control” (SAA.-87).   Marra’s reaction to the witnessed “gathering” was that any attempts to intervene would cause a riot, further confirming the out-of-control activities (SAA.-73; SAA.-47; SAA.-90).

Many of the students had already begun the party activity on campus prior to going to the bonfire.  Two underage student resident assistants reported beginning their drinking or attending a party on campus before venturing to the bonfire (SAA.-117 & 118 (more detail provided on prior page of deposition-omitted from record); SAA.-58).  This duplicates the movement of Rau and his group.

Shortly before midnight, a snowmobile with two students aboard crashed into trees along the Lake.  The snowmobile was damaged, but no treatable injuries resulted according to student participants (SAA.-122; SAA.-72; SAA.-88).

At around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m. on the morning of February 6, 2005, the crowd at the bonfire began to disperse, although a core group of students, including active snowmobilers, stayed throughout the night and continued to feed the bonfire (SAA.-133-134; SAA.-27 to 29). Rau, Guest, and their friends left the bonfire at around 3:30 a.m. and returned to Rau’s dorm room. Rau and Guest did not consume any alcohol upon returning to Rau’s room.  Sometime later, around 4:30 a.m., the group returned to the bonfire and the frozen lake.  Fifteen minutes prior to returning to the bonfire, Rau spoke to Christopher Hansen who was returning to the Lake at that time.  Rau told Hansen that the group would also return following shortly after Hansen (AA.-131). Although the prospect of watching the sunrise was referenced with respect to Rau’s group returning to the Lake, the sky was still very dark at that time since sunrise in that area was at 7:08 a.m. on February 6, 2005 (www.sunrisesunset.com).  When Rau’s group returned to the bonfire, there were approximately twelve people at the bonfire, and there were as many as four snowmobiles on the Lake.  Witnesses recall that Rau did not appear intoxicated when he was out on the Lake at around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.

Fog had blanketed the Lake throughout much of the night.  In fact, at around 11:00 p.m., Rau had sought to borrow a friend’s snowmobile, but the friend refused due to the heavy fog.  However, when Rau and Guest returned to the bonfire at 4:30 a.m., the fog had lessened to a large extent.  Lights from cottages across the lake from the campus could be seen from the bonfire area (SAA.-28).  Rau asked his friend, Christopher Hansen, if he could use Hansen’s snowmobile, and Hansen assented.  Previously during the night, at least two of Rau’s Pennsylvania friends accepted rides on snowmobiles (SAA.-52; AA.-54 & 55).  Guest had not accepted a ride prior to 4:30 a.m. (SAA.-52).  Rau first gave rides to two of the Pennsylvania friends.  The third Pennsylvania friend rode off with another student driver. Neither of the girls had any complaints about these first two rides with Rau (SAA.-31; AA.-58; AA.-104) and Hansen noted that the rides were uneventful (SAA.-31).   After escorting the first two women around the Lake, Guest and Rau set off together on the Hansen snowmobile, with Rau driving.  While the previous two rides were circles around the bonfire, Rau took Guest further out onto the Lake (AA.-58; SAA.-52).  Neither Rau nor Guest wore a helmet, similar to the other snowmobile riders active at that time.  Helmets were available for their use in the vicinity, but Hansen did not suggest that the helmets be worn (SAA.-30).  One of the Pennsylvania friends stated that she was not aware that helmets were available (AA.-105). When the snowmobile did not return after five minutes, Hansen went to look for his friends.  He came upon the overturned snowmobile near Peter’s Rock, a peninsula in Lower St. Regis Lake, the land on which is owned by Paul Smith’s College. The sled had struck the rocky promontory, went airborne, and struck and damaged the lean-to.  The bodies of Rau and Guest lay in the snow; Rau on the opposite side of Peter’s Rock where the sled struck, Guest below a tree on Peter’s Rock where she struck a branch more than ten feet above the tree’s base.  Both Rau and Guest died as result of their injuries.  After the students around the bonfire heard reports of what happened, one student found it necessary to then extinguish the bonfire (SAA.-134).

When the State Police supervising investigative officer arrived sometime after 6:00 a.m., he reported seeing a still smoldering fire and numerous empty beer containers on the Lake a short distance from the smoldering bonfire (SAA.-183).

The Actions of College Staff

On the weekend of February 4, 2005, Toni Marra was on call to be available to respond to any student problems (AA.-197 & 198).  While on call, Marra lived in Lakeside Hall, a dormitory directly bordering the Lake near the bonfire (AA.-194).  In the early morning hours of February 6, 2005, Toni Marra, then Director of Residence Life, and Jamie JS, a Campus Safety Officer, went down to the Lower St. Regis Lake after receiving a report someone had gone missing, or been injured on the Lake.  Statements by Marra and JS confirm that such possible injury was as a result of a reported snowmobile crash and possible injuries (SAA.-72; SAA.-88).  Such report came to JS and Marra from a student resident assistant who was just leaving a party in Alumni Hall, a designated wellness dormitory, which became too loud for his tastes.  The resident assistant received the news of the possible injury from a call received from the Lake. Marra and JS were heading towards Alumni Hall when they were diverted to the Lake by the report from the resident assistant (SAA.-57 to 59).  Marra and JS arrived at the Lake at approximately 12:45 a.m., only to learn that the report of an injury had been in error.  They lingered for a time, and spoke with a number of students gathered on the frozen Lake.  Although it was apparent to JS that students were drinking, and that a potentially dangerous situation existed noting that snowmobiles were being operated erratically (SAA.-95), Marra and JS elected not to call the State Police or JS’s supervisor in the Office of Campus Safety as recommended by JS (SAA.-97).  Such decision was made by Marra over objections from JS both as they approached the bonfire and as they returned to campus (SAA.-90; SAA.-94 to 97).  JS described the scene as dangerous (SAA.-95).  Marra’s instructions to JS were not to write anyone up because she was concerned about starting a riot (SAA.-73; SAA.-90; SAA.-47).  Marra based such concern on the assumption that students were drinking (SAA.-73).  Although Marra stated that she told the students to wrap it up and assumed that after she left that she was successful towards that end, no other individual present confirmed hearing such instructions (SAA.-140; SAA.-47; SAA.-134).  Further, although Marra may have encouraged the students to disperse or remain safe, they did not threaten them with any disciplinary action.  As Safety Officer JS explained, he had no jurisdiction on the Lake.  At some point, Marra and JS departed. 

The resident assistant who Marra and JS met outside Alumni Dormitory passed Marra and JS as they returned to campus.  The resident assistant reported activity around the bonfire at that time had continued unabated soon after Marra and JS left the bonfire area (SAA.-58).  After leaving the bonfire, Marra and JS did not follow through on the prior report of a party at Alumni Dormitory (AA.-205 & 206; SAA.-47). 

 No College officials were present on the Lake when Rau and Guest returned to the lake from Rau’s dorm room at 4:30 a.m. nor did Marra instruct any of the Safety Officers to periodically go to the lakeside during the night to ensure that the bonfire party had indeed ended (AA.-205 & 206; SAA.-47).

College Policies and Procedures

Paul Smith’s College’s policies and procedures for the 2004-2005 school year were set forth in a document referred to as the Community Guide.  Pursuant to College policy, as delineated in the Community Guide, students under the age of 21 were prohibited from consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages.  More broadly, the Community Guide stated that the violation of federal, state, or local laws would constitute a violation of federal, state, or local laws would constitute a violation of the College’s Student Conduct Code.    The Community Guide states that “the College Safety Department and Resident Life Department are responsible for any issue related to alcohol, narcotics, and dangerous drug violations that are reported receive immediate attention and are thoroughly investigated” (SAA.-154).  Violations of the Student Conduct Code are stated to include “committing off-campus violations of federal, state, or local law that adversely affect the College and/or the pursuit of its objectives” SAA.-152 at 8.2(1)).  Additionally, although students were permitted to have snowmobiles, the use of the snowmobiles on College-owned property was forbidden.  Thus, in order to gain access to the Lake, Christopher Hansen would transport his snowmobile via a trailer to an inlet down the shoreline which was not on College property.    


 


[1]  This expanded statement of facts is primarily drawn from the District Court’s decision of December 18, 2007 with additional facts from the prior submissions included to provide “a view of all of the circumstances.”  The portions drawn from the District Court’s reciting of the facts are italicized, while the additional facts are in regular type.  The added facts are drawn from the record as referenced using the following abbreviations:

AA. –Appeallee’s Appendix

SAA.- Appellant’s Supplementary Appendix

DRSUF--Defendants Paul Smith’s College and Toni Marra’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Supplemental Rule 7.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts

 

[2] As before, the College may well dispute whether this bonfire party occurred on Friday night given some confusion with Safety Officer JS’s examination before trial.  However, the events, other than walking on the Lake to the party, clearly did not occur on Saturday but related to Friday.  Additionally, those events are consistent with JS’s statement to the State Police the morning after the deaths and with Paul Smith’s College Incident Report number 12755 (SAA.-163), both included in the record.

 

 

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