IUP student's death tied to drugs, alcohol

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INDIANA, Pa. -- When Indiana University of Pennsylvania students William Smedley and Brenton F. Croll staggered into the Lawrence Hall dormitory Wednesday morning after a night of partying, they tumbled into the same bed to sleep.

"He needed a place to sleep because he lost his keys in my room. So he stayed with me," Mr. Smedley said. "And then I woke up ... "

About six hours after passing out in the bed, Mr. Croll, 18, a freshman nursing student from Roaring Spring, Blair County, was pronounced dead.

It was the second drug-related death in an IUP dorm room in less than six weeks.

Indiana County Coroner Mike Baker yesterday said Mr. Croll likely died as a result of combining prescription drugs and alcohol. He said the level of alcohol exceeded 0.08, the legal limit for drivers who are of drinking age, but was not more specific. Further testing will be necessary to determine the drugs involved, he said, but preliminary toxicology studies indicate more than one substance in his system. Foul play is not suspected.

"I didn't know him that well," said Mr. Smedley, 19, who has left IUP to stay with his parents in Dillsburg, York County. "I met him two weeks ago, and we became really close, really fast."

Mr. Smedley said he and Mr. Croll, who lived in another residence, the Suites on Maple West, were celebrating St. Patrick's Day late Tuesday at an off-campus house party. There was alcohol, Mr. Smedley said, and some drugs.

Freshman Dylan Smith, 19, of Scranton, shares Room 106 with Mr. Smedley. He said he was asleep when Mr. Smedley and Mr. Croll returned between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and fell into bed. Mr. Croll curled up in a fetal position at the foot of the bed.

"I was about an hour away from getting up for class," Mr. Smith said. "I got up and went to class and I got back here around a quarter after 12.

"When I came in the room, I turned on the light. Will woke up, but he was obviously ill. He threw up in the garbage can. I got some paper towels, and when I got back, Will was trying to wake up Brenton.

"I noticed Brenton wasn't breathing, he wasn't moving. He didn't look right. He looked like he had a purplish hue to him. I told Will he better call the police and I left.

"I knew something was wrong. But I was too afraid. I was scared. I'd never seen a dead body before."

Mr. Croll was pronounced dead at the scene at about 1 p.m.

Mr. Smith said he went to a friend's home, where he stayed until the director of the hall called him and asked him to come back to the dorm and speak with police.

Upon returning, Mr. Smith said, he saw his roommate.

"He was very shocked. He was shaking," he said of Mr. Smedley. "He's not a bad guy. He's a nice guy."

Mr. Smedley said he is taking a temporary leave from IUP.

"It's pretty terrible, actually. Pretty terrible," Mr. Smedley said last night. "I'm taking it real hard."

The coroner yesterday confirmed that a Feb. 10 fatality also involved drugs. Douglas James Haney, 18, of Bellefonte, was found dead in his dorm room when campus police were asked to check on his welfare.

Mr. Baker said Mr. Haney died of an overdose of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate used for pain relief. Patients using fentanyl usually wear a patch that distributes the drug through the skin over a three-day period.

Mr. Haney, who did not have a prescription for fentanyl, apparently chewed at least one patch "to get high," Mr. Baker said.

"We haven't gotten the final result on it," he said. "An underlying cardiac problem might have contributed and may have been the cause [of death]."

IUP President Tony Atwater yesterday sent an e-mail to the campus community, saying, "Obviously the death of any IUP student is tragic and difficult to bear for members of the IUP community. I am sure you join me in expressing concern and sympathy for Brenton's friends and family."

Funeral arrangements for Mr. Croll are being handled by Leslie-Miller Funeral Home in Claysburg.

Dr. Atwater wrote that the IUP Counseling Center provides walk-in crisis counseling to students or students can make an appointment. He noted The Open Door, a community agency, has a 24-hour crisis hotline at 724-465-2605.

IUP officials have faced this problem before. Dr. Atwater started a commission in November 2005 after a series of incidents highlighted substance abuse problems among the students. They included a fatal drug overdose, a suicide after a fraternity mixer, and the arrest of some of the college's basketball players.

Actions taken as a result include stronger sanctions for drug and alcohol use, required completion of an online alcohol education program for entering freshmen, alcohol education at orientation, and spreading the word that the norm on campus isn't heavy drinking, said Ann Sesti of IUP's Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program.

Dr. Atwater yesterday issued a statement saying he believes the commission's efforts are "beginning to have a positive effect. While the optimal positive impact that we hope to achieve will take time, we are making progress."

IUP surveys show the percentage of students drinking and the amount they're drinking has been declining. In anonymous student surveys, 26 percent in 2005 reported they didn't drink at all, a figure that grew to 42 percent in the 2008 survey.

Mr. Smith counts himself among those who abstain.

"I'm 19. I don't drink, I don't smoke," he said yesterday while sitting in the room where Mr. Croll died. "I have a real problem with the prevalence of it in the college society. In my opinion, there's a problem here with underage drinking.

"The students see it as a party campus. It's hard to say what the school should do. The security on campus is pretty tight."

Mr. Smith said college officials, dorm directors and students on his floor have been supportive.

"I don't want to reflect bad on the college," he said. "This is not a bad college. It's a good college. It's a great place to be. I think it's a typical problem on college campuses. I wish it was better. I really do.

"People are nice here. I chose this college for a reason."

Eleanor Chute contributed to this report. Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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