When a college student has a serious fall near campus, especially from the window or balcony of a residence, there are questions.
What happened? Was alcohol involved? Was there a party? How often has this happened in the past? What are people doing to prevent it?
Those questions arose again Tuesday morning after a 19-year-old University of Washington student was found seriously injured on the ground, below an open third-story window of his fraternity house.
Some of the answers were not immediately available.
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“We don’t know what happened yet, and I hesitate to speculate,” said UW Police Chief John N. Vinson.
He said police were not able to interview the student Tuesday and there were no witnesses to the fall.
Vinson said roommates had told police the student had been drinking earlier in the evening. They said he went to bed around midnight. What happened between that time and when he was found is not yet known.
According to the Seattle Fire Department, medics were called to the Chi Psi fraternity house in the 4600 block of 22nd Avenue Northeast by the victim’s friends, who found him lying in an alley as they returned to the house at 3:17 a.m.
“He had been out there for an unknown amount of time,” Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said. “He had multiple fractures and was in life-threatening condition. The only thing we can figure out is there is a window three stories up, and it was open.”
Moore said the student’s injuries were consistent with falling from an upper-story window.
The 19-year-old was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where a spokeswoman reported he was in serious condition in the intensive-care unit.
The fraternity’s president, Colton Perry, declined to comment when reached at the house by telephone.
Vinson said that usually Seattle police would have handled the call because the fraternity house is not on the university’s property, but UW police took the case because it involved a student.
He said police are not conducting a criminal investigation into the apparent accident.
Chi Psi’s national organization said the injured student was alone when he fell and there had not been a social function at the house that night, according to Q13 Fox News.
Falls that result in injury or death to students are not all that rare on campuses across the country, according to published news reports.
Vinson said there have been a handful since he became chief in 2009.
Last year, a UW student was injured when he fell from the second-floor balcony of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house at 17th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 45th Street.
Police said the student had been trying to negotiate around a crowd of people by walking on top of furniture, stepping on the guardrail for balance, when he fell.
In 2009, another student was injured when he fell out of a third-story window during a fraternity party.
The year before that, 21-year-old Kevin MacDonald died after he fell from his bunk-bed ladder out of a large open, third-floor window at his fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi.
MacDonald’s death was the sixth involving male students aged 18 to 21 to die in falls at a UW fraternity house or residential hall between 1987 and 2008, according to a report in The Seattle Times.
An additional five students suffered broken backs or other serious injuries from falls during that period.
Last year at Washington State University in Pullman, a 19-year-old woman was injured when she fell through a fire escape at the Phi Kappa Tau house, and a 21-year-old man was hurt when he fell down a flight of stairs at the Delta Chi fraternity.
According to David Hotz, the director of the UW Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, some of the challenges in protecting students from falls are due to the age of some of the residential structures and houses.
Many of the privately run fraternities are in large houses off campus that were built nearly 100 years ago, Hotz said.
“At that time, windows were built larger and the bottom of the window frame was placed lower,” he said.
“Some organizations have developed a barrier system that does not prevent the ability to escape in terms of a fire, but provides some level of resistance if someone trips and falls and prevents people from sitting in windows and losing balance,” he said.
Hotz said that though the university works with fraternities to suggest ways to increase safety, it cannot mandate changes.
“We can certainly suggest safety things, but the UW cannot dictate what they do to those facilities,” he said.
Among other things, he said, the university requests that the fraternities conduct safety inspections and advises them to look at the “placement of beds in proximity to windows.”
He said students have fallen out of both dormitory and fraternity windows when their beds were next to a window.
Hotz said he was not aware of any incidents of women falling from sorority-house windows.
“Unfortunately, men take more risks than women do,” Hotz said.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983. Seattle Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report, which also includes information from The Seattle Times archives.