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Father of injured WSU student: ‘Nobody should be able to accidentally fall out of a window’

Thu., Sept. 7, 2017, 5 a.m.

Washington State University freshman Matthew Gray poses with the family labrador, Ginger, last year. Gray, 18, has been in a coma since he fell out the window of his second-story dorm room on Aug. 24, 2017. (Courtesy of Jim Gray)
Washington State University freshman Matthew Gray poses with the family labrador, Ginger, last year. Gray, 18, has been in a coma since he fell out the window of his second-story dorm room on Aug. 24, 2017. (Courtesy of Jim Gray)

Matthew Gray was three days into his freshman year at Washington State University when he fell out the window of his second-story dorm room.

Police said the 18-year-old had been drinking, like many of his peers, although the circumstances of the fall remain unclear. In the early hours of Aug. 24, he was airlifted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane with skull fractures and other injuries. He remained in a coma Wednesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, his hometown.

Gray is one of dozens of WSU students who have been injured in falls from balconies, roofs and windows. The falls have occurred at university residence halls as well as off-campus apartments and Greek houses. Most involve alcohol.

Now, Gray’s father is demanding that WSU add safety features to windows on campus. In an interview Wednesday, Jim Gray acknowledged his son was drunk but said that’s beside the point.

“My position is that nobody should be able to accidentally fall out of a window,” he said. “It shouldn’t be able to happen.”

To put pressure on WSU leaders, Jim Gray created a website, FixTheWindows.org, and spawned a hashtag, #FixTheWindows. As of Wednesday evening, nearly 12,000 people had signed a Change.org petition demanding better window security.

“People don’t fall out of windows at hotels. People don’t fall out of windows at hospitals,” Gray said. “It’s a known problem with a known solution.”

The university responded in a statement this week, saying that a team of officials had reviewed all 17 residence halls on the Pullman campus. The group said each building has “operable” windows that “are designed to open so that occupants can escape or be rescued in an emergency.”

Phil Weiler, WSU’s vice president for marketing and communications, said officials have yet to find an effective safety measure that wouldn’t violate the fire code. He said the university considered buying readily available fall-prevention devices, but then realized they are designed to protect young children and wouldn’t be effective for college students.

“There may well be a product out there that we haven’t come across,” Weiler said. “The code is really clear that, if you put something in front of the windows, it has to be able to be removed really easily.”

The school plans to hire a consultant to evaluate fall risks across the campus. Weiler said officials would distribute fliers with safety information to all dorm residents in the coming days.

Matthew Gray moved into Community/Duncan Dunn Hall just weeks before he fell out the window on Aug. 24. The four-story brick building, which houses about 250 undergraduates near Greek Row, was renovated in 2012.

Jim Gray believes the windows in his son’s room were too close to the floor.

Weiler didn’t know the exact dimensions of the windows but said the sills are at least 2 feet above the floor. He said the sills are deep and may be tempting for students to sit on.

Weiler also said it’s common for students to “loft” their beds for more storage space underneath. He said one of the beds in Gray’s room was propped up on pyramid-shaped stands, placing the mattress higher than a nearby windowsill.

“I think that may have potentially been a problem that contributed to him falling out of the window,” he said.

Jim Gray said his son had pneumonia and had undergone two operations on his head and one on his knee.

A GoFundMe.com campaign had raised more than $57,000 for Matthew’s medical bills as of Wednesday evening. A Harborview spokeswoman said he was still in critical condition.

“This is going to be a really long fight,” Jim Gray said.