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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nolan M. Burch: Another Fraternity House Death

     West Virginia University in Morgantown is well-known for being a party school where excessive drinking is part of the student culture. As anyone familiar with campus life knows, ground zero for the drinking/party scene are fraternities that are essentially drinking clubs. WVU, of course, is just one of many universities and colleges where students can take bone-head courses and party more than they study.

     On October 15, 2014, the national chapter of Kappa Sigma suspended the WVU charter of the organization for breaking the fraternity's code of conduct. Notwithstanding this action, the Morgantown chapter did not curtail its pledging or social activities.

     On November 6, 2014, 19 members of WVU's Sigma Chi fraternity were arrested following a booze-fueled disturbance on the street near the frat house. All of the students involved had been drinking and under the legal age for the public consumption of alcohol. Four days later, the national chapter of Sigma Chi withdrew the Morgantown charter.

     Just before midnight on Wednesday November 12, 2014, Morgantown police officers, in response to a 911 medical emergency call, arrived at the off-campus Kappa Sigma fraternity house. At the scene, police and emergency medical personnel found someone performing CPR on a WVU student.

     The first responders found no signs of traumatic injury on the body of 18-year-old Nolan M. Burch. Paramedics rushed the freshman to Morgantown's Ruby Memorial Hospital where he was placed on life support.

     Nolan Burch, from Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, graduated in 2014 from Canisius High School where he played hockey and lacrosse. At WVU he majored in pre-sports management. In Williamsville Burch had worked at a car wash.

     On Friday November 14, 2014, after he was taken off of life support, doctors pronounced Nolan Burch dead. The university placed an immediate moratorium on all Greek activities that meant no parties or pledging activity.

     A spokesperson for the Morgantown Police Department, on November 15, 2014, confirmed what everyone suspected: Nolan Burch's death was alcohol related.

     As detectives gathered information regarding the events leading up to this student's death, they learned that at ten o'clock on the night of November 12, 2014, a blindfolded Burch and 19 other pledges walked from the Kappa Sigma fraternity house to a nearby building. It was there each pledge was handed a bottle of liquor by a big brother. Burch drank an extreme amount of liquor in a short period of time. It raised his blood-alcohol content to 0.49 percent, six times the legal limit for driving.

     A member of the Morgantown police officer said he had never seen such a blood-alcohol content so high. It suggested that the student had gulped down the liquor the way someone would chug a beer or a bottle of soda.

     Following the liquor drinking initiation, Burch was taken back to the fraternity house where fraternity members laid the passed-out young man on a table. At 11:50 PM, a fraternity brother noticed that the pledge's face had turned blue. Unable to revive him, the student began CPR and called 911.

     On February 10, 2015, after a Monongalia County prosecutor charged him with the offenses of conspiracy and hazing, 20-year-old Richard Schwartz turned himself in at the Morgantown Police Department. According to a police spokesperson, these charges could be brought either as misdemeanors or felonies. The judge set the suspect's bail at $10,000.

     Richard Schwartz stood accused of providing the victim with alcohol that night. With the help of another fraternity brother, the suspect allegedly carried the passed-out Burch back to the fraternity house. No trial date has been set in this case. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

John McCarthy: Professor of Math or Meth?

     In high school, I had a French teacher who came unglued in front of her students. She had been acting strangely for weeks, but nobody had reported her. School officials eventually had to haul the disturbed teacher out of the classroom. We never saw her again. I found this quite tragic because she had been an easy-grader. Her replacement was a monster who flunked half the class.

     During my college years I encountered a couple of oddball professors, but witnessed nothing that compares to what Michigan State University students experienced on October 1, 2012 when math professor John McCarthy went off the deep end.

     Professor McCarthy, described by his students as an eccentric who smoked meth, taught in MSU's Engineering Building. Just before one o'clock on the day his students will never forget, he started shouting in class. The professor pressed his hands and his face against a window, and stated to scream at the top of his lungs. (I was a college professor for thirty years, and while I occasionally lost my temper, I never had the urge to scream into window glass.) The out of control professor walked out of the classroom and continued to make a lot of noise as he paced up and down the hallway. At this point someone called 911.

     Professor McCarthy returned to the classroom, and with his terrified students looking on, took off his clothes except for his socks. (Not a good look under any circumstances.) He then ran naked about the room screaming, "There is no f-ing God," and ranting about computers, Steve Jobs, and that everything in life was just an act. (Except, of course, his breakdown.) Traumatized students were fleeing the classroom.

     Fifteen minutes after the 911 call, a period of time that seemed to the students like an eternity, police officers entered the classroom, placed the screaming, naked man into handcuffs, and hauled him off to a local hospital for observation. His students, for the remainder of the semester, were reassigned to other math classes.

     In an email to his former students, Professor McCarthy, after being discharged from the hospital, wrote: "The incident that occurred Monday was unfortunate." (What ever happened to: "I made a fool of myself, scared the hell out of you, and I'm sorry?") "Although I do not remember what happened, I have been told that I may have caused distress among my students in Monday's class. For that I am sorry." (May have caused distress?)

     Professor John McCarthy was not charged with a crime. While he was probably tenured, the professor must have had a hard time justifying his meth-indiced antics as an exercise in academic freedom. Still, in academia, bizarre behavior is tolerated that anywhere else would be frowned upon and cause for dismissal. If the professor lost his job over this incident, there is no mention of it on the Internet. Assuming he kept his position at MSU, how did he muster the nerve to show his face on campus after that? 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Wesleyan University Mass Molly Overdose Scandal

     Wesleyan University, an expensive 3,200-student liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, is known for its culture of drugs. (The school referred 154 students for disciplinary action for drug violations in 2011. That number jumped to 281 in 2012. In 2013, 240 Wesleyan students got in trouble for drug use.) The latest campus drug scandal involved the abuse of the synthetic drug Molly, known by chemists and crime lab personnel as MDMA.

     The main ingredient in Molly, contraband smuggled into the United States from China, is the psychoactive stimulant Ecstasy commonly present at music festivals and on the club party circuit. While Molly dealers claim they sell it in its purest form, most of the drug is laced with dangerous additives such as epheorine (a stimulant), dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant), cocaine, methamphetamine, and in some cases bath salts.

    Molly users experience euphoria, mild hallucinations, and the urge to physically touch other people. The drug, in its various forms, boosts three chemicals in the body that can cause blood vessels in the heart and brain to constrict. That in turn could lead to heart attacks and strokes. Molly also causes the body to overheat resulting in fatal brain swelling and dehydration.

     Early Sunday morning February 22, 2015, following a Saturday night party at Wesleyan University, paramedics rushed twelve partygoers to the Hartford Hospital. The ten students and two campus guests exhibited symptoms of Molly overdose.

     While two of the sick partygoers were listed in critical condition and fighting for their lives, all of the Molly users were expected to survive.

     On Tuesday night February 24, 2015, officers with the Middletown Police Department arrested four Wesleyan students on charges related to the overdoses. Two of the students, 21-year-old Eric Lonergan from Rio de Janeiro and Andrew Olson from Atascadero, California, were charged with several counts of drug dealing. The judge set their bonds at $100,000 and $175,000 respectively.

     A local prosecutor charged 21-year-old Zachary Kramer from Bethesda, Maryland and Rama Agha Al Nakib, 20 of Lutherville, Maryland with possession type offenses. The judge set their bonds at $75,000 and $100,000 respectively.

     The four Wesleyan students arrested in the Molly overdose scandal have been suspended from the school. They posted bail and were released from custody. 

Writing Quote: Are Unpublished Novelists Real Writers?

If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a novelist and you never will be.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Rare Gun Violence In South Korea

     Four people, including a policeman, were killed on February 27, 2015 in the second shooting incident in two days in South Korea where gun crime is extremely rare. A 75-year-old man armed with a hunting rifle shot dead his brother, the brother's wife and a police officer who responded to an emergency call. The gunman then turned the weapon on himself.

     The shooting in Hwaseong City 25 miles southwest of Seoul, appeared to have been motivated by a family dispute over money. The incident came two days after a man shot three people dead in a convenience store the killer then torched in a apparent revenge attack on the family of his former lover in the southern city of Sejong. In that case the gunman also committed suicide.

     South Korea's tough gun laws effectively outlaw ownership of firearms by most civilians. Rare exceptions are allowed for hunters but they must deposit their rifles at local police stations.

"4 Dead in Second Rare Shooting in South Korea," ndtv.com, February 27, 2015 

Criminal Justice Quote: Chief of Police Busted in Prostitution Sting

     A south Florida police chief is out of a job after being accused of soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover cop. Former Miami Gardens Police Chief Stephen Johnson was arrested in Dania Beach on February 27, 2015. After posting his bail, Johnson said, "I want to apologize to the community. Tonight was a very unfortunate situation for me dealing with an incident that occurred today. It just overwhelmed me. The stress overwhelmed me, and I made a very bad decision to deal with that moment that I have never experienced before." Johnson blamed his actions on stress at work.

     "When I saw two grieving families and the overwhelming issue to face them, it brought something that's totally out of character with me," he said. "And people know me. That is just not my character. Bad decisions on how to deal with that, but I've never dealt with that kind of feeling before, so I can't even explain it." [Huh?]

"Florida Police Chief Fired After Prostitution Arrest," CBS News, February 8, 2015 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Left Out In The Cold

     A 23-year-old Allentown, Pennsylvania woman left her sleeping 1-year-old in her minivan in freezing weather while taking another child for a haircut. Mirella Rodriguez was charged on February 24, 2015 with endangering the welfare of a child.

     Following her arrest, Rodriguez posted on Facebook that the allegations were blown out of proportion and that she was a great mother and would never purposely harm her child. Police say Rodriguez left the child behind without a blanket while she took her 3-year-old into a barbershop at two in the afternoon. A parking officer saw the child and alerted police.

     The temperature at the time was 20 degree, with wind chills of 9 degrees. The child was unharmed.

"Mon Left Sleeping Tot In Cold Van During Kid's Haircut," ABC News, February 25, 2015 

When A Successful Novelist Calls It Quits

For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?

Daniel D'Addario, Time, November 24, 2014