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The Accident That Did Not Need to Happen
Random acts can have such drastic effects. Kristine Guest lost her life after a series of events where a different decision or action may have altered the sequence and spare her and Joshua Rau from paying the ultimate price. Most discontenting, decisions and actions by those college officials responsible for student safety make the difference between either halting witnessed dangerous activities or allowing them to continue to the tragic end.
Here is their tragic story.
Kristine was just beginning the second
semester of her junior year at Quinnipiac University in southern
Connecticut. Early in the semester, Amanda, Kristine’s roommate, was
planning a weekend trip to up-state New York to celebrate the 20th
birthday of a high school friend. The trip included a stop over in Boston
to pick up another of Amanda’s friends. That Boston was included was
appealing to Kristine, since this provided the opportunity to visit with
friends made in her freshman year at Boston’s Simmons College.
Kristine spent the better part of the
first week of February 2005 debating whether she should go to Boston and
connect with those friends and then head to New York with her roommate, or
stay at Quinnipiac, with many of her friends away and some extra time for
her studies. The amount of course work due on Monday and Tuesday surely had
been part of her consideration since she was consistently diligent in being
prepared for class. She likely considered her parents’ urgings, especially
from her father, to make the most of her college experiences as long as her
coursework came first. Weighting all the considerations, she made the
fateful decision to go.
Also, traveling with Amanda was
Amanda’s friend at Quinnipiac, Mary. Amanda and Mary grew up in the same
town; Emmaus, Pennsylvania, south of Leigh Valley. Joshua Rau was a mutual
friend from their high school years the one celebrating his 20th
birthday. Joshua attended Paul Smith College, a private college near
Saranac Lake, NY, located west of Lake Placid. Kristine met Joshua the
previous fall when he visited Amanda at Quinnipiac.
Amanda and Mary’s plan was to leave
Friday afternoon for Boston to pick up their other friend from Emmaus,
Lindsey who was attending Northeastern University. Northeastern is within a
mile of numerous other colleges, including Simmons College where Kristine
attended her freshman year before transferring to Quinnipiac. A key benefit
to Kristine of joining the group was to see her former roommate and a few
friends for the first time since leaving Simmons in the spring of 2003.
They arrived in Boston around 6:00PM
and after connecting with Lindsey at Northeastern, they met the Simmons’
friends, Siobhan, Hillary, and My-Ann, at Uno’s near Northeastern for
dinner. My-Ann wrote the following about her cheerful time with Kristine:
“She greeted us at the door, and
we all gave her great big hugs. She was smiling and just happy to see
us. As always, we commented on how beautiful she was and she laughed.
After being introduced to her friends, we just chatted and caught up
with one another. We talked about how I was graduating and the scary
thoughts I had about it. We talked about her studies. Kristine told me
that she was going to California during Spring Break for some school
trip--I wish I could remember what it was. Kristine and I took a few
moments to reminisce about our days in accounting class; that was one of
our usual talking points. Let me tell you, Kristine and I leaned on one
another during that class! We thought we'd never survive! But we did.
The evening was just so lighthearted and full of conversation. She was happy and it showed. She smiled a lot; and Kristine always had a bright and shining smile. When dinner was over, we parted ways. The girls and I went to the restroom to wash up, and we hoped to see her before she left. I wish we did. When we came back from the bathroom, she was gone. But even before going to the restroom to wash up, she told us to IM (instant message) her more often, and we made promises to do so. We all gave her great big hugs, and we said we'd try to visit her during Patriot's Day. And ironically, the last thing I told Krissy was to have fun, but be safe. She told me she would.”
After dinner, the Simmons girls went
back to campus while the rest returned to Northeastern before retiring.
They slept in Lindsey’s apartment like dorm with Kristine on a couch and the
other two on a spare bed.
On Saturday morning, Kristine and the
others woke at 9:00 and had breakfast at Duncan Donuts. Since they needed
to get an early start, they set off without their morning showers. The four
left for New York at 10:30. Lake Placid is a five-hour drive from Boston.
However, Kristine likely did not have a clue where Paul Smith College was in
relation to any place else or how far it was from Connecticut or Boston.
She was going for the ride just has she did since she was little. According
to Mary, Kristine and she were together much of the time in the back seat
talking and getting to know each other better as well as sleeping. Mary
remembered the trip this way:
“I have this problem where i just
don't stop talking ever but Kristine would honestly listen to every word
anyway. She called me out on all my weird phrases that i never even
realized i said every five seconds in conversation
until she called me out on it. I remember on the long trip to the
Adirondacks, we were in the back seat together, and we talked about so
many random things and got to know each other better than we had all
year. It is a great memory i will always cherish...and i will always
finish the majority of my sentence with 'no lie' since she seemed to get
such a kick out of it every time that phrase popped up in which ever
story i was telling at the time.”
Kristine checked her voice mail in the
Springfield area just after noon. As they reached north of Albany, Amanda
and Mary remarked about the mountains, frozen waterfalls and other
remarkable sights along the highway. The ski jump in Lake Placid visible
from the highway was impressive to them.
The group arrived at Paul Smith
College after 4:00 where Joshua welcomed them. It was a crystal clear day
and all were entranced by the beautiful setting. The temperature was mild
for the season and while the girls were all bundled up, Joshua was outside
in a tee shirt. The male/female ratio at Paul Smith approximates 4 to 1.
Therefore, the fact that Joshua had four girls visiting him brought a lot of
attention. They first saw Joshua’s all male dorm and were taken aback by
its appearance as a converted stable. The girls’ dorm across the campus was
more to their liking and Joshua drove them there so that they could shower.
When driving over, Joshua made certain that all were buckled up prior to
starting the car.
That week, Saranac Lake was holding
its Winter Carnival which they attended for about two hours as well as
having dinner at a restaurant in town called Little Italy. Along with
structures built with blocks of ice, there was a maze built of ice which the
girls went through, despite a sign placing the area temporarily off limits
to allow the ice to refreeze.
After the Carnival, the group returned
to campus. The birthday celebration began in Josh’s dorm room at about 9:00
PM. Joshua made plans with Amanda and Lindsey to have on hand an adequate
supply of the desired types of alcohol. Joshua had an on-campus source who
apparently he used often to obtain alcohol. The party began with a drinking
game called checkers. Statements of the participants indicated that many
were drinking heavily.
Outside, other Paul Smith students had
started their weekend bon fire on the lake contiguous to the campus in
preparation for their customary weekend party. The fire was fueled by wood
gathered by the students and brought onto the ice. The fire was positioned
50 to 75 feet into the lake centered between two of the dorms on campus.
The ice was said to be approximately 15 feet deep, therefore, the bon fire
on the ice was not by itself a hazard. However, the same cannot be said for
what was occurring around the bon fire. Typical of college students, the
event involved drinking, some heavy. Despite most students being under age,
no one had difficulty obtaining the desired quantity of alcohol. Untypical
of the typical college gathering was the lack of any controls over the use
of alcohol and the presence and use of snowmobiles. Therefore, a
combination of risky and mostly illegal behavior: 1) underage drinking, 2)
use of snowmobiles on the lake at high speeds, 3) use of snowmobiles at
night, 4) driving snowmobiles while under the influence, and 5) virtually no
use of helmets by riders.
Joshua and his friends, including
Kristine, joined the party at the bon fire around 10:30 and then split their
time at the bon fire and Joshua’s dorm to warm up. Amanda tells how
Kristine and she were initially concerned about a fire on ice and approached
the area carefully, arm in arm until they saw that it was safe. The walk to
from the dorm to the fire was only a few minutes so walking back and forth
between the fire and the dorm to warm up was an easy task.
Any thought of sleep was put aside
least they miss the good time. There was significant drinking at the
gathering with some individuals getting very drunk. The survivors of the
group indicated that everyone in their group was drinking heavily. How much
Kristine drank through the night is uncertain, but Kristine’s alcohol
content was found to be negligible as reflected in the police report.
Therefore, at most she may have had a single mixed drink that was likely
nursed through the night to be social. Joshua was stated by various
students to be somewhat intoxicated throughout the night.
Although the participant statements
estimated that the number of snowmobiles in use anywhere from 5 to 20, there
likely were between 8 and 12 vehicles ridden on the ice with certain
individuals riding at speeds up to “90 miles per hour”. Joshua was viewed
by the girls as a safe driver. Additionally, Joshua identified for the
girls the drivers with whom they should not ride since they were known to be
reckless. Amanda, Lindsey and Mary took rides during the course of the
evening, but Kristine must have deferred at that time. While having the
opportunity for a snowmobile ride for over six, Kristine, likely concerned
with the recklessness of the activity surrounding the bon fire, declined.
At approximately 12:30AM, the
college’s Director of Residence Life, Toni Marra, and a Safety Officer,
JS, went to the bon fire in response to a report of a possible
injury. Conflicting accounts were given by the two as to the message given
to the students. Ms. Marra stated that she instructed the students to wind
it up and left the scene understanding that the snowmobile riding had ceased
and the party was closing down. Officer JS relayed a much different
version of the visit. He stated that the students were told to keep the
noise down, keep the speed down and call with any problems. Additionally,
when approaching the bon fire, Ms. Marra, who oversees the safety officers,
instructed him not to take any action for fear of a riot. Three statements
by students confirm Officer JS’s account. Statements by many other
students indicate that an unabated level of activity continued well after
the two left. One of the students, who was a Resident Assistant, passed the
two as they returned from the bon fire, reported a scene at the party of
unabated snowmobile riding and other revelry as follows:
“It was now about 12:25AM. I
walked out toward the lake. On the way there I saw Toni Marra and
JS walking to the van. Toni is my boss and James is a safety
officer. They were out on the ice but I don’t know what they did out
I walked out on the ice and got
about 25 yards from the fire. There were between 80 & 100 people
standing around the fire. There was a lot of alcohol there too. 12 to
15 snowmobiles were riding around.
I later learned Toni & James were out there because they received a report of an accident on the ice.
I started to get sick because of
the gas smell. So I left and walked back to my room. I went to sleep
about 2:20 am.”
Around 3:00AM Joshua’s group went to
the dorm where they talked and ate pizza. They were planning and prepared
to get some sleep, having changed into their pajamas. Sometime around 4:30,
they returned to the bon fire with a goal to view the sunrise. At that
time, the crowd was significantly reduced but the bon fire still going. The
sky was clear with many stars. There was a mist that hung near the ice
close to land. Along with the party being much more subdued, the buzz many
had earlier that night must have worn down. Joshua’s female friends stated
repeatedly that he did not then appear drunk. Joshua borrowed a snowmobile
from another student. They then intended to pass the time to sunrise with
more snowmobile rides. The rides that Joshua gave Amanda and Lindsey were
said to be wide circles around the bon fire. Kristine’s apparent
reluctance to ride is evidenced in that she was the last of her traveling
companions to take a ride, even though the others had ridden earlier that
night. Amanda mentioned to Lindsey mentioned that she almost fell off of
her ride with Joshua. Whether Kristine heard this is uncertain. Mary took
a ride with another student. When she returned, Kristine had already left
with Joshua on her first and only ride sometime around 4:30AM.
Why Joshua changed the pattern of the
ride with Kristine, we will never know. Lindsey guessed that since this was
Kristine’s first ride, Joshua wanted to do a little more. Unfortunately, he
did not stay in the safe zone that all of the girls were confident that
Joshua would not leave. Joshua left with Kristine and they did not return.
After some time passed, the others
started to question the absence of headlights and the delay in Joshua and
Kristine returning. Some students went out on snowmobiles to look for them,
one to the left far from where they were. One party returned not saying
much but told the girls to go back to the dorm. There they stayed until
after 5:30 not knowing for certain what happened other than a crash. Then
they learned, that both Kristine and Joshua had died. After learning the
dreadful news, they were all shocked and spent the remainder of the time
starring around the room. Their instructions from the police were to not
contact anyone until the police interviewed them. After their interview,
they called their parents and arranged to be picked up.
One can easily select any part of this
tragic sequence, alter one fact, and Kristine would still be with us. The
transfer from Simmons to Quinnipiac, which was so right for her, meeting
Amanda and eventually rooming with her new friend from Pennsylvania, the
plans made for the Pennsylvanian friends to meet in upstate New York,
Kristine’s final decision to tag along, the college’s condoning of drinking
parties with the risky use of snowmobiles, the failure to of the college
employees to stop obviously dangerous and illegal activities when the
opportunity arose, Kristine’s final decision to take that fatal ride after
more than 8 hours of deferring, Joshua’s decision to stray from the safe
course to one which resulted into what must have been unimaginable terror
and their quick and fortunately painless demise.
Of those selected random events, the
last four deserve the most scrutiny. All four of my children were raised
aware of personal responsibility and the need to accept the consequences for
their actions. Kristine surely, but apparently reluctantly, made the
decision to take that fatal ride. Even then, she was the last of her
traveling companions to ride, even though the others had ridden previously.
However, from her perspective of the events that night, most of the activity
was new to her especially being around snowmobiles. She cannot be held to be
reckless, especially with the apparent caring nature of Joshua and the
effective endorsement of the activity by the college.
Additionally, the level of activity
has subsided significantly by 4:30AM along with overt indications of
Joshua’s level of intoxication. While Joshua’s blood/alcohol level proved
to be well above the legal limit for driving a motor vehicle, Kristine’s
level was negligible, to the point that no measurement was made. Therefore,
Kristine had little, if anything to drink that night. As a state
investigator described Kristine, she was “the least irresponsible of the
group.” The evening was basically filled with what college kids across the
nation do regularly on weekends, make use of whatever is around to have some
fun and gain new experiences. I, like I believe most parents, gave Kristine
the charge to have fun, gain new experiences, but be careful.
The last part of the charge, Kristine
always took to heart, but like most youth, she continued to need some adult
oversight to ensure that the choices available for the college weekends
where the opportunity for tragedies such as Kristine’s are minimized. In
this respect, Paul Smith College did not live up to its responsibility.
They have rules regarding underage drinking, but did not enforce those
rules, like unfortunately many other colleges. They obviously condoned
repeated under-aged drinking within their view. In addition, and even more
egregious, they allowed snowmobile riding, at night, on ice, without
State-law required helmets, by drinking students all within their sight and
brief presence. Many illegal activities were witnessed, but not addressed.
The college administrators who condone these activities, at a minimum,
should no longer be allowed to oversee the activities of other people’s
Sometimes young adults need protection
from themselves, which the college officials failed to do. At Paul Smith
College, as well as at colleges across the nation, it is beyond time for
adults to begin acting like adults. Tragedies such as Kristine’s do not
need to occur. Just maybe, fewer parents with have the send off to college
be their final good bye to their child.
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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest
|Circumstances Leading to Fatal Crash|
|Photos-Proximity of bon fire to campus|
|Full Circuit Court Decision|
|Governmental Failure to Enforce Failure to Enforce Federal Law to Protect Students-Confirmed-see IG Report-3/14/12|