Spady's Death Ruled Accidental; Drinking Investigation Continues
POSTED: 8:31 am MDT September 17, 2004 Top of page
UPDATED: 6:00 pm MDT September 17, 2004 Article
Samantha died from acute alcohol poisoning, investigators said Friday. The coroner said that Samantha had a blood alcohol level of 0.436. Samatha consumed alcohol over 11 hours starting before the CSU/CU football game on Saturday and ending with her presence at the fraternity house, where she consumed "additional significant amounts of alcohol." Police said that Spady drank alcohol at four separate parties before she died, starting at 6 p.m., Sept 4 with beer and switching to straight vanilla-flavored vodka around 2 or 3 a.m. on Sept 5.
CSU Student's Site Shows Several 'Drunken' Photos
POSTED: 11:41 am MDT September 10, 2004 Top of page
UPDATED: 4:53 pm MDT September 10, 2004 Article
"Spady's memorial was held Friday morning at Centenary United Methodist Church in Beatrice, which was packed with an estimated 800 people. At the church's cemetery, Spady's Chi Omega Sorority sisters gathered to wish her goodbye, singing as a group of young men laid yellow roses on her casket."
By ANGIE WAGNER | Associated Press
(Article no longer available from web search-excerpts included for its value for lessons learned with a goal of presenting future such tragedies)
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- By the
time the rainy night stretched into early morning, Samantha Spady had been
drinking and partying for hours. Earlier, it was beer and shots of tequila. Now,
inside a fraternity house, she was swilling vanilla vodka straight from the
On weekends, she and her friends would head to the country to hang out and sometimes drink beer. But Sam never drank to get drunk, said her best friend from high school, Kelleigh Doyle.
More than anything, she wanted to escape her rural life. Fort Collins, with its 127,000 people, was just big enough. She loved this college town, its quaint downtown shops and tree-lined neighborhoods. In the fall, streets fill with amber and chestnut leaves that crackle when students stroll to class in the Colorado chill.
The sophomore business major hadn't really known anyone here, but quickly made new friends. Her mother had always admired that about her, the way people were drawn to her.
Sam had pledged Chi Omega sorority as a freshman, but it took up a lot of time. There were functions to attend, and it was hard to balance with schoolwork. She longed for home-cooked meals and her bed at home, and by her second semester, had dropped out of Chi Omega.
In her health-class journal, she talked about her struggles with the sorority and how she missed her family.
Mirna Guerra hadn't known Sam that long when the two decided to get together
Sept. 4, the Saturday before Labor Day and the evening of the big Colorado State-Colorado football game.
Sam picked up Mirna, a freshman, just before 6 p.m., and they went to a house to watch the game.
Sam drank a beer, downed two shots of tequila, ate a hot dog and munched on chips and dip. They left two hours later.
They watched the rest of the game at another house, where Sam drank a few beers from a supersize cup. They left around 10:30 p.m.
Friends told police Sam had been out partying the past three nights. It wasn't unusual for her to drink three or four times a week. Sometimes, Sam vomited and later passed out.
"It's what everyone does," said Sam's roommate, Sara Gibson. "Some people party every night."
It's college. Away from parents, often for the first time for any extended period, college students can come and go as they please and are free to experiment with alcohol. Drinking becomes part of the culture.
Parties come on the fly, and there's never a shortage of kegs to tap. In pubs and bars near campus, drinks are cheap, and women often get them free. All-you-can-drink nights for $5 a pop are common. All of it is an invitation for binge drinking, said Henry Wechsler, director of the College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health.
And there is no one to tell them "no." "They're without parental supervision. They're at a period of life when they explore and experiment," he said.
Nationally, 44 percent of college students report binge drinking -- five drinks in a row for men, four for women -- at least once in the previous two weeks. Half of those students do it more than once a week.
While the percentage of binge drinkers has stayed about the same over the past 11 years, the amount they drink at one sitting has increased, Wechsler said. Members of fraternities and sororities tend to drink more than other students.
Nationally, there are more than 1,400 alcohol-related deaths each year among college students, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Most are the result of automobile accidents.
It was raining hard, and Sam was having a hard time seeing through her windshield because of the storm. She hit the median and ended up flattening two tires. Mirna didn't think Sam was drunk.
Upset and unsure of what to do, Sam called her parents. No answer.
It didn't spoil the evening. Sam and Mirna still wanted to find a good party. They soon found one.
For about two hours, they drank and danced to Michael Jackson. Sam downed four or five cups of beer. She might have played drinking games. "By then, we had started drinking pretty fast," Mirna said.
Still, Sam seemed fine. She and Mirna were having a good time, talking about music they liked and possibly rooming together next year.
Around 2:30 a.m., Sam and Mirna were at the Sigma Pi house, a place she felt comfortable. Sam had lots of friends in the fraternity and had dated a few members. Some considered her a little sister.
"She always made people smile," said Sigma Pi President Darren Pettapiece.
About 25 people were at the fraternity house, hanging out in the hallway or drinking and talking in rooms.
"You could kind of tell she was drunk, but you couldn't tell how drunk," said Matthew Kilby, a student at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely who was at the Sigma Pi house that night.
Gibson, 19, and another one of Sam's roommates were also there, but they left about an hour later. They knew Sam was drunk, but they had seen her worse. "I was like, come back with me," she said. "She looked me in the face, saying, 'I want to stay.' "
Another beer later, and Sam and Mirna were hanging out in one of the bedrooms, listening to the rock band Dispatch with other students. By then, just a few people were still awake at the Sigma Pi house. Around 4 a.m., Sam and Mirna were doing swigs of Sam's favorite drink -- vanilla vodka. They put the bottles to their lips and tilted their heads back, as the room echoed: "Go, go, go!"
Minutes later, Sam was sitting on the front stoop, resting her head on her elbows. She was unable to stand and fell back. Her head hung down, and she didn't respond when friends spoke to her.
Around 5 a.m., Sigma Pi member Baylor Ferrier and a friend helped Sam upstairs and put her on a couch in the unused social room they called Le Boom Boom. Ferrier had dated Sam the previous semester and says he had seen her worse; he thought she just wanted to sleep. "It didn't seem like a big deal at all," he said.
Mirna stayed with Sam for a half hour, urging her to walk back to her dorm room with her. She tried to help Sam stand, but Sam swayed and then fell over, so Mirna put her on another couch. "She was going in and out of it. I would wake her up and clap," Mirna said.
Sam opened her eyes but couldn't speak well. She nodded her head. She just wants to sleep, Mirna thought. She'll be fine. But the homecoming queen with the megawatt smile was dying. Soon after Mirna left, Samantha Spady took her last breath.
She was likely in a coma, Lieber said. Her brain cells asleep, her respiration slowed. If she had gotten medical help, he said, even that late, she might have lived.
As Sunday dawned and the glint of orange crept through the mountains, Sam's cell phone started ringing. "Sam Bam, you were so drunk last night," Mirna's message began.
Her mother, Patty Spady, called, then waited. She called again. Still no Sam. She tried not to worry, but it was so unlike Sam not to call back. Sam's roommates tried too, calling Sigma Pi members, asking if anyone had seen her.
Almost 13 hours after Sam had been left to sleep off the drunken night, a fraternity member was giving his mother a tour of the house. Beer bottles and cans littered the house. Panties and bras hung from the entryway chandelier; a stripper pole was in one room.
When he opened the door to the social room that had been stuffed with extra couches, he saw Sam's alcohol-poisoned body, clad in jeans and a yellow T-shirt. Her long blond hair was pulled back. Her knees were on the floor, her face resting on a foam cushion. Her arms were outstretched to each side, almost like she was crawling. It looked like she was sleeping. "Hello?" he asked. "Hello?" He touched her leg. It was cold and stiff.
She had a blood-alcohol level of 0.436 percent. The coroner said it probably was higher when she was left there; her body would have continued to metabolize alcohol while she was unconscious.
Since Sam's death, the parties continue, the booze still flows.
But the Sigma Pi house has been shut down. Fraternities have banned alcohol, and alcohol sales are banned inside the football stadium. Nineteen people were cited for alcohol-related offenses as part of the investigation into Sam's death.
"It's not so much that we have a problem," Sigma Pi member Matthew Dunn said. "It's more that we have a few people who make the wrong decision. Sometimes young people don't know how to handle alcohol."
On Colorado campuses alone this fall, there have been four other alcohol-related deaths. Three students at colleges in Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico died after drinking with their fraternity brothers recently.
"It's not just the students on that campus. It's not just the faculty. It's not just the bar owners. Everybody in the community has a responsibility for some changes to take place," Patty Spady said.
Mirna Guerra and other friends Sam was with that night still party.
But they also remember Sam, and they wonder how she could have drunk so much -- enough to die -- and they didn't know it.
"I was thinking, why didn't I stay with her?" Mirna said. "Why didn't I know something was wrong?"
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