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Kristine's Last Weekend-A summary of how she came to visit Paul's Smith's College and what happened after she arrived

 Individuals & places

  • Paul Smith College-Located 45 minutes west of Lake Placid in up-state New York
  • Quinnipiac University-located in southern Connecticut
  • Simmons College and Northeastern University-Located within one mile of each other in and area within Boston where many educational institutions are located
  • Kristine Guest-a junior at Quinnipiac University-from West Hartford, CT
  • Amanda- a junior at Quinnipiac University-from Emmaus, PA, Kristine’s roommate beginning in the Fall 2005 semester
  • Mary-- a sophomore at Quinnipiac University-from Emmaus, PA
  • Lindsey-- a junior at Northeastern University-from Emmaus, PA
  • Joshua Rau- a junior at Paul Smith College-from Emmaus, PA
  • Amanda, Lindsey and Joshua were close friends in high school
  • Mary knew the other PA individuals in middle school, but lost touch in high school, became friends with Amanda at Quinnipiac
  • Michael R-a student RA at Paul Smith College
  • Richard S-a student RA at Paul Smith College
  • JS--a Safety Officer at Paul Smith College
  • Toni Marra-Director of Resident Life at Paul Smith College, who, among other duties, oversees student RA’s and directs Safety Officers in their reactions to breaches of the student conduct code
  • Christopher Hansen--a student at Paul Smith College

 Summary of main occurrences:

  • On January 29, 2005, Stephen Welch, a 19 year-old Paul Smith College student, died in a truck accident near the Paul Smith campus.  Alcohol level was reported to be a prime cause of the accident.
  • On Friday night, February 5, 2005, the Toni Marra and two Safety Officers witnessed a bonfire party on the lake adjoining the campus.  A truck was on the lake ice doing donuts.  The State Police were called and they scanned the lake.  However, the party dispersed and the bonfire was extinguished prior to the State Police response.
  • After the State Police left campus on Friday night, an intoxicated student drove his truck erratically onto a campus parking lot.  Toni Marra declined to call the State Police and reacted by taking the student's keys and escorting him to his dorm.  This was a lost opportunity to send a message to all that driving under the influence is dangerous and will not be tolerated.
  • During the first week of February, 2005, Amanda and Lindsey were making arrangements with Joshua to travel to Paul Smith College to celebrate his 20 birthday on Saturday, February 5. Mary was included in the plans for the trip.
  • Kristine was invited, and decided to go on Friday, the day of departure from Quinnipiac.
  • With directions from Lindsey and Amanda, Joshua acquired the alcohol that the girls preferred with the assistance of a 22 year old Paul Smith student.
  • At 3:00 on Friday afternoon, Amanda, Kristine and Mary left Quinnipiac to drive in Amanda’s car to Boston.
  • They arrived in Boston after 5PM where they met Lindsey at Northeastern.
  • Additionally, Kristine met three former classmates from Simmons College, where Kristine attended in her freshman year. The group had dinner a restaurant near the colleges.  This stop was likely a major attraction for Kristine to make the trip.
  • After spending the night at Northeastern, the four traveled to Paul Smith College, starting at 10:30AM and arriving approximately 4:30 PM.
  • After meeting Joshua and his friends at Paul Smith, the group went to a winter carnival in near-by Saranac Lake.
  • The group returned to Paul Smith College where at 9:00 PM they began celebrating Joshua’s 20th birthday in his dorm room.  A drinking game was said to be a central activity at this state of the celebration.
  • During Saturday afternoon, other students at Paul Smith College prepared for a recurring weekend party primarily involving Paul Smith students.
    • The campus borders Lower St. Regis Lake, on which the party occurs when the lake is sufficiently frozen, which is most of the winter.
    • The students secure wood for a bonfire from Paul Smith's Forestry Cabin and build the fire approximately 200 feet from campus and in plain view from the campus grounds. The bon fire is the focal point of the parties.
    • Also recurring at the party, students rode snowmobiles on the ice through the night.  That night, there were said to be anywhere from 5 to 20 snowmobiles on the ice.  Likely, the number was between 8 and 15.
    • All activity was within full view of the campus, which was a short walk from the bonfire.
  • That semester, the party had occurred the previous two weekends on a smaller scale.  Between 80 and 100 students were attending the party that night.
  • Joshua and his friends went to the bon fire at approximately 10:30.  The girls and he were at the bon fire intermittently from that time to 3:00AM.
  • During their time on the ice, Mary and Lindsey were rode on the snowmobiles frequently.  Joshua and Amanda likely took rides, but to what extent is uncertain.  According to the resultant police report and backup statement, Kristine did not accept a ride during that time.  
  • Since Paul Smith College is an undergraduate school, most students are under the legal drinking age.  That largely underage students attended the party is evidenced by the age of those students providing statements to the State Police.
  • Shortly before midnight, two students crashed their snowmobile into trees at the edge of the Lake.  No injuries resulted from this crash.
  • At approximately 12:30, Toni Marra and JS walked to the bon fire to investigate the report of a possible injury from this snowmobile crash.
    • Upon learning that no one was hurt, they stated the following:
      • Ms. Marra stated that she told the group that the activities must stop and she left the scene with the understanding that did happen and went to sleep at 2:45AM believing the activities had stop using the lack of noise from the snowmobiles as her confirmation.
      • Safety Officer JS gave a much different account of the message given to the students.  He stated that he was instructed not to intercede for fear of a riot and that the message was far from orders to cease the activities.  He stated that he urged Ms. Marra to contact the State Police several times, but she overruled his judgment.  Upon leaving the lake, Officer JS stated that he still felt that a dangerous situation existed.
      • Officer JS’s account was similar to that of three students, including Richard S and Michael R, two student RAs.
  • Michael R walked to the bon fire, passing Toni Marra and JS as they returned from the scene.  R witnessed unabated activity directly after the two left the scene of the party providing evidence that their presence had no effect on activity around the bon fire.
  • From student accounts, the snowmobile activity diminished or stopped at approximately 2:30 to 3:00AM based upon the judgment of various students that the mist on the ice was creating unsafe conditions.  While the snowmobile activity diminished after this period, the bon fire and party continued throughout the night at a lower level.
  • Joshua and his group returned to his dorm at approximately 3:00AM to talk, eat left over pizza and get some sleep.  Rather than sleeping, the group decided to go back on the ice at 4:30 to view the sunrise.  From the police report, there were approximately eight other students still at the bon fire and apparently 3 to 4 snowmobiles in use.
  • On the ice, Joshua approached Christopher Hansen to borrow Christopher’s snowmobile.  Christopher judged Joshua to be sober at that time and provided the vehicle.
  •  Joshua first gave rides to Amanda and Lindsey.  Mary took a ride on another snowmobile.  Joshua circled the bon fire when giving the rides to Amanda and Mary, keeping an apparently safe course.
  • Finally, Joshua gave Kristine a ride that deviated from the previous safe course.  Lindsey guessed that since this was Kristine’s first ride, Joshua wanted to show her a little extra.
  • Joshua hit a peninsula that was hidden by mist traveling an estimated 50 miles per hour.   Both Joshua and Kristine died instantly.
  • Joshua’s blood alcohol level was .113, well above the legal driving limit.  From student statements, Joshua had turned into quite a drinker at college and may have built a tolerance to where although earlier in the evening he has obviously intoxicated, at 4:30AM his alcohol level reduced to the level where intoxication was not obvious, as evidenced by Christopher Hansen’s statement.
  • Kristine’s blood/alcohol level was determined to be negligible evidencing that she had little if anything to drink.

The above sequence of events was derived from conversations from Kristine’s friends and the report prepared by the New York State Police.  All details related to the events at Paul Smith College, including the actions and conditions of individuals, including Kristine, are verifiable in the police report and accompanying statements by individuals.  All were primarily confirmed by a reporter for the PressRepublican in Plattsburgh, New York,  in an article published February 2, 2006.  The reporter provided the President of Paul Smith College the opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding, but instead basically confirmed the more significant facts. 

 Below, is my commentary:

On Saturday night, Kristine found herself in situation that she did not anticipate.  She kept her involvement under control by avoiding excessive drinking and repeated snowmobile riding and just blended into the group.  As stated by a Police Inspector, “Kristine was the least irresponsible of the group”.  Unfortunately, apparent peer pressure led to her taking that fatal ride.  Appropriate intervention by college officials when they and the opportunity would surely have prevented her tragedy.

The law's view of the college's responsibility for student safety:

On December 18, 2007, the US District Court ruled to grant Paul Smith's College's summary motion to dismiss the case. In its decision, the Court summarized the facts very much as detailed above.  However, the Court concluded that the college did not have a duty to act. 

The District Court's ruling is a disconcerting example of how the civil law is stacked against students at the cost of student safety.  The Court's decision includes the Court's summary of the facts which conforms with the facts stated here and in other pages in this site.  Significant in the Court's fact summary are the stated actions of Paul Smith's College's personnel.  Additionally, the decision contains strong language concerning Paul Smith's College's failure to appropriately intervene upon witnessing a dangerous situation and commentary about the College's "laissez-faire attitude" concerning campus drinking. 

In the District Court’s decision, four points are evident:  1) College personnel witnessed an extremely dangerous situation involving scores of students, 2) College personnel consciously decided to not take effective steps to attempt to halt the dangerous situation, 3) two students eventually died from the dangerous activities which were foreseeable at the time the College had the opportunity to effectively intervene, 4) the facts, if determined true at trial, demonstrated to the District Court that the College was ineffective overall in enforcing the Student Code of Conduct by stating in footnote 8:The court does not suggest that the College's alleged laissez-faire attitude towards underage and/or binge drinking--if true--was appropriate or well-advised.”

Despite these statements regarding Paul Smith College's indifference to student safety that fatal night and overall, the archaic reading of a college's legal obligation for student safety by the District Court led the Court to find for the college.

As much as this decision is disturbing to Kristine's family, all parents of college students attending New York colleges should be equally disturbed.  The judgment effectively relieves New York colleges of the responsibility to address dangerous and reckless activities of students when such activities occur directly in their view.

Read the full decision

     
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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest

 

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