Student's alcohol related death spurs U of I to review policies

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) - Officials at the University of Idaho say they're reviewing the school's substance abuse policies and its relationships with fraternities and sororities in the wake of a freshman's alcohol-related death.

Eighteen-year-old Joseph Wiederrick froze to death under a bridge last month after he apparently got drunk at a fraternity party and became disoriented while walking home. Police said his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 at the time of his death, more than twice the legal limit to drive in Idaho.

Several students at UI and neighboring Washington State University have been badly injured in recent months from alcohol-influenced falls from buildings, and one WSU student died from alcohol poisoning during the fall semester.

WSU has already begun a broad review of its substance abuse policies and programs, and UI Dean of Students Bruce Pitman said Wiederrick's death helped the university decide to undertake a similar effort.

"I think that we have been doing a lot of very aggressive and high-quality education and intervention activity in the last year, year and a half," Pitman said. "And yet, when these problems continue to happen, we have to hit the pause button and take some time to examine what we're doing and how we might be doing it differently."

The university is forming two task forces. One, made up of student leaders, faculty, staff and area residents, will review prevention education programs, current policies and enforcement strategies for substance use and abuse, Pitman said. The other task force will be smaller, made up of fraternity and sorority alumni, and will focus on the relationship between UI and the Greek system.

"There are many models about how universities are related to Greek systems that they find on their campuses," he said. "Some campuses, particularly in private schools, have very intrusive models where fraternities and sororities are required to be in university residences and strictly monitored. On the other extreme, there are campuses where fraternities and sororities are not even recognized by the institution," Pitman said. "I think we're at the point where we need to ask a question about whether the model we're using or if the university needs to adopt a different policy or strategy in regard to our Greek system."

The task forces are expected to report their findings and recommendations by late spring.

Wiederrick's mother, Michelle Wiederrick, said she would like to work with the task groups "as soon as we can get through this hard part of our grief process."

"From my point of view, we've all tried to keep kids from drinking for years. Maybe what we can learn from this is to teach them to watch out for each other. ... Instead of just laughing and thinking it's funny and sending them off into the night, to hopefully help each other. Even if it's a stranger," she said.

Police said that on the night of his death Wiederrick entered one woman's home, apparently thinking it was a fraternity house, and she sent him away. He also knocked on another door, but the resident was frightened because of the late hour and asked him to leave.