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Shaken campus mourns students lost to accidents

By NED P. RAUCH, Staff Writer

PAUL SMITHS — Students and faculty members prayed together and consoled each other Tuesday as they tried to cope with the deaths of two students and a visitor in less than two weeks.

Speaking before a packed and somber gymnasium, Paul Smith’s College President John Mills told several hundred students, teachers and staff members that any time a life is taken away it’s tragic, "but when those lives are so young and full of promise, it is especially devastating."

Prayers were read at the start and close of the ceremony, and when a song about dealing with loss was played over the loudspeaker, more than a few people in the audience began to cry.

Early Sunday morning, Joshua Rau, a sophomore who had turned 20 the day before, and Kristine Guest, a 20-year-old visiting from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, were killed when the snowmobile they were riding struck a large rock.

Barely more than a week before that, 19-year-old student Stephen Welch was killed when the truck he was driving overturned.

Alcohol was involved in both cases, investigators said.

An autopsy revealed that Rau, who was driving the snowmobile, had a blood alcohol content of .14 percent. Another Paul Smith’s student was arrested for allegedly providing Rau with alcohol.

And authorities said Welch had been drinking before the 3 a.m. crash that killed him.

On Tuesday, however, friends of Rau and Welch were not thinking about how much the two had been drinking; they were simply thinking about their missing friends.

John O’Bryan was Rau’s roommate this year and last. He said he can still hear Rau shuffling to and from the shower in his duct-taped slippers.

"We always did stuff together," the 19-year-old O’Bryan said, recounting their snowboarding trips to Whiteface and Titus. "It’s just so shocking to have him gone now."

Tristan Bronson, who met Rau at the start of their freshman year, said Rau "always had a smile on his face."

He said the natural-resources student loved the outdoors, was a whitewater paddler and a member of the school’s search and rescue team.

"It’s hard. I don’t even want to go in my dorm anymore. I still don’t believe that he’s gone really. He’s too young. It shouldn’t have happened."

Sydney LaBore was the residential adviser in Rau’s dorm last year. He was always smiling, she recalled, and whenever he would see her on campus, he’d holler hello to her, no matter how much distance separated them.

LaBore was also Welch’s residential adviser.

"As soon as we started moving on from the first one, then the second one happens," she said of the fatal crashes. "That just makes it even harder."

As the students and the rest of the college mourn, some have asked whether the school should address its alcohol policies.

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, for example, said he would offer whatever help he could to prevent such accidents from happening again.

Frank Doldo, director of campus life, said it was too early to talk about policy changes and wouldn’t say whether he thought there was any kind of alcohol problem at the school.

"Now is not the time to look at the what-ifs; it’s time to look at the positives," he said, adding that Paul Smith’s alcohol-related policies and procedures are consistent with those in place at colleges around the country.

But in his speech to students, President Mills asked them to think about intervening when a friend appears to be in trouble. And he implored students to consider the weight of their decisions before making them.

"Think carefully about these decisions you will face and think about the obligations you carry to your classmates, friends, family and community.

"We must act in a proactive way to make sure there are no more losses."

Meanwhile, the school community will continue to grieve. At 3 a.m. Friday morning, buses will leave the college for Rau’s funeral in his hometown in Pennsylvania.

E-mail Ned P. Rauch at: 

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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest