Past violation highlights flaws with university alcohol policy

 

A little more than two months before she died after a night of heavy drinking, first-year Miami University student Erica Buschick was arrested Uptown for underage alcohol consumption.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2016, Miami University Police officers saw Buschick stumbling and falling near the corner of Campus Avenue and High Street.

According to the police report, the officers stopped their cruiser and approached Buschick. She had bloodshot, glassy eyes and was slurring her words.

When the officers asked her age, Buschick told them that she was 21 years old. When they asked her birth date, she responded: August 6, 1998. Her Illinois driver’s license confirmed that she was 18 years old.

The officers took Buschick to MUPD for booking and she submitted to a breathalyzer test. Her blood alcohol content was .327 — four times the legal limit in Ohio and what researchers consider “life-threatening.”

“That’s very high,” said Cpt. Ben Spilman, spokesperson for the Miami University Police Department. “Unfortunately, we see high blood alcohol contents like this more often than we’d like to.”

According to a filing in the Butler County Area 1 court, Buschick was to appear in court at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2016 to face the charges. But a motion of continuance, signed by Buschick, rescheduled the case to Feb. 2, 2017.

Less than two weeks before Buschick was set to appear in court, she was found dead in her Morris Hall dorm room.

The Butler County Coroner has not yet released a toxicology report. However, police records, including an audio recording of the 911 call made by Buschick’s roomate the morning of Jan. 20, show that high-risk alcohol consumption undoubtedly contributed to her death.

Buschick’s death, along with the 21 alcohol-related hospitalizations that coincided with the end of sorority rush over the weekend of Feb. 10, has revamped a conversation on the drinking culture at Miami and prompted President Gregory Crawford to make the issue a priority.

“As a president, I’m disappointed and even angry. As a father, I’m concerned and devastated. As a leader, I’m determined to do something about it,” Crawford told Miami’s Board of Trustees Friday morning. “Everything is on the table. I am reviewing all of our programs and initiatives.”

Buschick’s prior arrest has raised concerns about the effectiveness of Miami’s  alcohol policy.

In his statement to the Miami University Police Department, Jason Colwell, the cab driver who helped carry Buschick to her room the night of Jan. 19, wrote that Buschick told him not to call anyone for help because she did not want to get in any more trouble.

However, Miami’s Good Samaritan Policy, which was introduced during the 2013-2014 academic year, gives students the opportunity to seek medical assistance in alcohol or drug related emergencies without concern for arrest and disciplinary action.

“The research says that people who tend to be heavier drinkers, they are less likely to report or call for help,” said Rose Marie Ward, a professor of Kinesiology and Health who studies the drinking culture at Miami. “But they are also the ones who see the most alcohol poisoning.”

Miami’s code of student conduct says that students can be cited for alcohol violations in two ways:

The minimum penalty for the first violation — intoxication, or section 105 A in the code of student conduct — is attendance at a four-hour substance abuse education program and a fee of $200 after the first offense. A second offense means suspension from the university.

For the second violation — prohibited use of alcohol, or section 105 B in the code of student conduct — a student can be suspended from the university after three offenses.

“Every year we have people with a second or third offense, often within a short amount of time,” said Jayne Brownell, Miami’s vice president of Student Affairs. “So this is not changing students’ behavior.”

While it is not clear if Buschick had been charged by the the Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution, Ward, who has experience with the OESCR process, said she would at least have been charged with violating section 105 B of the code of student conduct.

“It does make you question: are there other ways to alert students to the risks they are taking?” Ward said. “If an arrest isn’t enough, what else would have been?”

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