Alcohol may have claimed student
ASU death is seenas latest in string
By MICHELLE CROUCH
An Appalachian State University student from Charlotte died last week
after drinking with friends to celebrate his 21st birthday, police said.
His death appears to be the latest in a string of alcohol-related
tragedies that have colleges and universities in the Carolinas and
across the country working to reduce the heavy drinking that many
students consider a rite of passage.
Philip Edward Thompson, a junior, was found dead Wednesday in his
Boone apartment by his roommate, police said.
The medical examiner's preliminary observations indicate alcohol
poisoning is the likely cause of death, said Boone Police Chief Bill Post.
The student's father, Robert Thompson of Charlotte, said he and his
son had a tight relationship and had talked about the dangers of
"Maybe I was naive," the choked-up father said Sunday. " I knew he
might get out of control, but I didn't think he would go to this extreme."
Witnesses told police that Thompson was drinking at bars with friends to
celebrate his birthday last Tuesday night, Post said. It was unclear how
much he had to drink.
The final autopsy report and an official cause of death will be released
in a few weeks, police said.
Thompson graduated in 1997 from Olympic High School, where he was
a member of the National Honor Society and enjoyed the outdoors,
according to his father. He was majoring in economics at Appalachian
State and worked part-time as a waiter at the Daniel Boone Inn.
"He was very well-liked. He had an easy-going, likable personality," said
Peter Hess, an assistant manager at the inn who worked with Thompson
for more than a year.
ASU spokesman Bob Shaffer said Thompson recently filed papers to
withdraw from the university, but he was unsure of the reason.
Binge drinking has been a concern on campuses across the country in
recent years, and North Carolina has seen its share of alcohol-related
In February, an 18-year-old Belmont Abbey College student was
hospitalized after binge drinking at a fraternity party.
Last year, Duke University junior Raheem Bath died following a drinking
binge that led to a form of pneumonia.
And in 1995, a UNC Chapel Hill freshman fell to her death after climbing
a campus building following a night of drinking.
A 1998 Harvard study showed that more than 40 percent of college
students surveyed are binge drinking - defined as four drinks in one
sitting for women, five for men.
The study also showed that 22.7 percent of students surveyed, or more
than one in five, had binged three or more times in the previous two
weeks. That was up from 19.8 percent in 1993.
A number of Carolina campuses have launched new efforts to curb
student drinking. Most are attacking on multiple fronts: more alcohol
education, dry campus-sponsored parties and more alcohol-free
At Duke University, the school's Alcohol Task Force spent about
$30,000 on a series of alcohol-free events earlier this year, but so few
students were showing up that the university canceled the remaining
ASU stepped up its efforts in 1997, after an 18-year-old freshman
accused six football players of sexually assaulting her while she was
drunk and incapacitated.
That incident was "a wake-up call," said Dale Kirkley, director of the
alcohol and drug assistance program, though efforts to reduce alcohol
abuse on campus had already begun.
"We've had a very active effort in our campus and our community for a
number of years," Kirkley said Sunday.
ASU staff members work with a group of students, faculty members and
community leaders on prevention programs, he said. Efforts include
campus speakers, counseling, peer leaders and a theatrical program
during freshman orientation.
In addition, the school recently launched a media campaign designed to
ease the peer pressure on students to drink.
"There's a false norm that most students here not only support heavy
drinking, but are involved in it," Kirkley said.
"The truth is, a large majority of students are not involved in heavy
ASU junior Gerald Witt said most students at the school go to bars to
celebrate their 21st birthdays.
"When you turn 21, you go out and get hammered," he said. "But I don't
think that means (drinking) is a big problem here."
Witt said he has gone to parties at other colleges, "and they party just
as hard there as they do here."
ASU astronomy professor Daniel Caton agrees that the problem is no
greater there than at other campuses.
"I know the administration has been concerned about it," Caton said.
"But you can only do so much. After that, it's the responsibility of
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Thompson "There's a false norm that most students here not only
support heavy drinking, but are involved in it. The truth is, a large
majority of students are not involved in heavy alcohol abuse."
Director of ASU's alcohol and drug assistance program