Officials seek solution to stem fraternity falls

MOSCOW, Idaho — University officials are looking for solutions in response to a series of falls from campus buildings in Idaho and Washington, mostly at fraternities and involving alcohol.

The falls — five since September — at the University of Idaho and Washington State University campuses have alarmed officials, who acknowledge the challenges they face in changing student attitudes toward alcohol and minimizing dangerous behavior.

“Obviously, we need to do more with them to help them think through what are the possibilities for accidents,” Washington State University Dean of Students Melynda Huskey told the Lewiston Tribune. “This is a challenging age. Young men in their late teens and early 20s are not always the best assessors of personal risk.”

The latest rash of falls began in September when a University of Idaho student was seriously injured when he fell from the roof of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Two days later, a WSU student was hospitalized after falling three stories from a window in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

In early October, a WSU student fell from the third-story balcony of the Buffalo Creek apartments in Pullman and had to be taken to a Spokane hospital. In what officials called a miracle, another WSU student survived an 11-story plunge from a residence when tree branches broke his fall.

In the most recent episode, a WSU student received critical head injuries Sunday when he fell backward off a second-story balcony of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. The 19-year-old had emergency brain surgery and doctors placed him into a medically induced coma while he recovers.

Alcohol consumption was a factor in four of the five falls, according to authorities.

Fraternities contacted by the Lewiston Tribune did not immediately respond to calls for comment on measures they are taking to increase safety.

But Huskey said each Greek organization must complete a process called “university-approved housing” before it is allowed to house freshmen.

“We review the basic health and safety code materials with those houses, and make sure they meet all of the basic standards for safety,” she said.

The latest round of student injuries has also motivated city officials to get involved.

Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson agrees student behavior needs to change, but he also intends to begin discussions with city department heads next week on ways to improve safety.

“It’s something we can take a look at from the building code standpoint,” Johnson said. “But again, some of these people have been finding other ways to get out on top of roofs, or putting themselves in harm’s way.”

Injuries to students who fell from buildings have also caused legal headaches for universities.

In August, an Idaho judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former University of Idaho student who fell from a frat house window during an off-campus party and suffered debilitating injuries.

In that case, the UI lawyer argued that school officials cannot control what students do on private property and ultimately cannot be held liable for accidents that occur in fraternities.

On the WSU campus, the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life has been revisiting safety issues with houses, including weekly meetings with their presidents. And a task force appointed by WSU President Elson Floyd in the wake of a recent student death by alcohol poisoning is taking an in-depth look at university policies.

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