A Washington State University freshman who died Oct. 27 had blood alcohol content that was five times the level considered legally intoxicated.
Kenneth D. Hummel, 18, died early Saturday morning from a lethal amount of alcohol in his blood system, said Whitman County Coroner Peter J. Martin. Hummel’s blood alcohol level was 0.40; a level of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated. The student’s death was listed as accidental.
Martin said a person would have to drink about a fifth of hard liquor to have a blood alcohol level that high.
Hummel’s death comes after three Palouse students were injured in alcohol-related falls from buildings in recent months, two at WSU and one at the University of Idaho.
In response, WSU administrators announced the creation of an alcohol and drug task force to tackle the growing problem of overconsumption of alcohol among students.
The group will focus on new education programs, developing prevention programs and health treatment coordination between Pullman Regional Hospital and WSU Health and Wellness Services, according to a university press release.
“Obviously our final goal would be to identify any best practices that could intervene and prevent any similar case from happening again,” said Melynda Huskey, WSU dean of students, at a press conference Wednesday. “Our goal is to include the outcomes for all our students to prevent any more tragic losses.”
Hummel was a resident of Olympia Avenue and was visiting a dorm room at Stephenson Hall South when he was found unconscious by other students. They performed CPR until emergency crews arrived. He was transported to Pullman Regional Hospital where he pronounced dead.
“It has really affected many students who were close to him,” Huskey said. “He was a sunny-dispositioned young man who had a lot of friends. His family is really just devastated by this loss, and so we’re providing as much support and care as we can for students who have been impacted by this loss.”
School officials are concerned about the recent spike in the number of students drinking heavily and needing medical treatment for alcohol poisoning.
Pullman Regional Hospital has treated four patients already this semester for alcohol poisoning, spokeswoman Alison Weigley said. She said about 370 patients on average are treated every year for alcohol-related incidents, and there doesn’t appear to be an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment this year compared with previous years.
Huskey said, “Really, in higher (education) across the nation we’re seeing some trends that are troubling, so there’s some good, solid national research going on. Developmentally, we know that students at this age are less risk-averse than older folks, so we have to balance that developmental fact with our intervention services.”
The university has already responded to the trends. All freshmen must go through a drug and alcohol training program called “Booze, Sex and Reality Checks,” and the university offers additional programs and classes to aid in the prevention of over-consumption.
University president Elson S. Floyd said earlier this week on WSU’s website that Hummel’s death affects the entire campus community.
“The loss of a young person seems especially difficult because of what it represents – a loss of possibility, of potential for the future,” Floyd wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Kenny’s family and friends at this painful time.”