Monday, August 29, 2011

Tri-Delta at UCF Dies After Concuming Alcohol

Roommate says UCF student had been drinking before she died

By Denise-Marie Balona, Marni Jameson and Walter Pacheo, Orlando 
Sentinel

Ann Hefferin's roommate told emergency dispatchers that the 18-year-old UCF 
freshman had been drinking before she was found unresponsive in their on-campus apartment early Thursday.

Rescue crews later rushed Hefferin to Florida Hospital East, where she was pronounced dead.

"My friend was drinking and she woke me up and she's sick and now she's not responding," Hefferin's roommate told 911 dispatchers at about 4 a.m., her voice shaking.

 "I don't know what to do. She's purple ... she's gasping for air," the young woman said, later telling the dispatcher, "She told me her heart hurt."

The 911 operator quickly began coaching the young woman in CPR, and was told that Hefferin took a gasp of air, then was not responding. By the time emergency workers arrived, she seemed to be breathing sporadically.

Hefferin, a new member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, attended a Sigma Chi fraternity house party Wednesday for about an hour, UCF officials said. Alcohol was served at the party - a violation of university policy.

UCF officials, however, said they did not know if drinking played a role in Hefferin's death. Police were still trying to piece together precisely what happened.

Tests performed by the Medical Examiner's Office were inconclusive, and additional test have been ordered.

Impact on Greek life

On Friday, UCF ordered Sigma Chi and Delta Delta Delta to cease all social activities while the case is being investigated.

"Although we do not know if it played a role in Ann's death, alcohol was at the Sigma Chi house …," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said in a statement.

University officials said Sigma Chi had not requested permission from the fraternity's national office or UCF to throw Wednesday's party.

"The fraternity is immediately subject to our disciplinary process and will be held accountable for its actions," Heston said. "We await news from the medical examiner that will help further guide our investigation and response."

UCF officials had stationed an agency vehicle outside the Sigma Chi house Thursday afternoon, while the Police Department and UCF investigated "activity" at the house.

Although Sigma Chi is in "good standing" with the university, the fraternity could face sanctions, including the revocation of its charter.

In total, there are 46 Greek organizations at UCF. They serve more than 3,000 students.

A national problem

Like many college campuses, UCF tries to prevent alcohol abuse through a variety of alcohol-education programs. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education recognized UCF's programs as a national model, university officials said.

All freshmen are required to complete a two-hour, online course that covers alcohol-related topics such as how to call for help if a friend appears drunk and how to refuse a drink. The college's Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Programming office also gives regular presentations in classes, student organization meetings and residence halls.

The first week of school is the time of the riskiest drinking, said Scott T. Walters, professor of behavioral sciences at University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. Walters co-authored a recent study that found incoming college freshmen to be at the highest risk for excessive drinking.

The study, published this month in Addictive Behaviors, surveyed 76,882 students from more than 258 colleges, for the eight weeks prior to college starting and five weeks after.

The summer before college, kids' drinking increases some, and students tend not to be as careful about their drinking. But the turning point was the first week of school, which Walters called "gap week."

"The real kicker were the number of youths who answered yes to questions regarding intent to get drunk," said Walters, author of "Talking to College Students About Alcohol." "Many more answered yes to questions about whether they planned to drink shots, play drinking games, or intentionally
get drunk." Drinking tends to taper after the first few weeks.

He cites a new freedom and minimal supervision as factors in binge drinking, particularly in the early weeks. "Parents are gone; courses have no demands. Kids are at loose ends, and they fall through the cracks. They are trying to socialize and make friends and think alcohol will help," he said.

What would help, he says, is a better hand-off. "Parents should stay around. There should be more supervision, or maybe schools should make academic requirements happen up front, instead of having a blow-off week."

He also encourages parents to stay in touch with their students, especially at first.

"Get to know your student's friends, space and schedule."

Drinking during adolescence has been on the rise in the United States for years, said Mark Goldman, professor of psychology at University of South Florida.

"Fifty percent of young people have had their first drink before their 15th birthday. What happens in college happens against background of high level of drinking that's been going on anyway," Goldman said.

Facebook memorial

Friends and others who knew Hefferin have turned to the Internet to express their grief, share high-school photos and remember her optimism, kindness, and inner and outer beauty.

A Facebook page was created to share memories of the young woman who graduated from Orlando's Bishop Moore Catholic High School and started classes at UCF this week.

Hannah Harkins, who met Hefferin during a sorority event about two weeks ago, called Hefferin her "rush crush." The two women shared a love for movie nights.

Hefferin had joined the Delta Delta Delta sorority just a few days ago.

"We instantly formed a bond and connected on a familiar level," Harkins wrote on the Facebook page created in Hefferin's honor. "From what I learned, Ann seemed to be grounded and loving and just looking for people to relate to."

Michael Echevarria, who attended Bishop Moore with Hefferin, said he couldn't believe she's gone.

"It feels like just yesterday we were sitting in the same Spanish 2 class and then talking about colleges together and now she's gone," he wrote. "It wasn't her time to go, she was too young and beautiful and so genuine."


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