District attorney to host summit addressing college drinking: recent events, including McCrae Williams’ death, prompt event

The+press+conference+%289%2F19%2F2017%29+held+by+the+Northampton+Country+District+Attorney+regarding+the+investigation+into+the+death+of+McCrae+Williams+21.+%28Photo+by+Kathryn+Kelly%29

The press conference (9/19/2017) held by the Northampton Country District Attorney regarding the investigation into the death of McCrae Williams ’21. (Photo by Kathryn Kelly)

Gabrielle Tropp

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is organizing a summit with the four higher education institutions in the county to address the issue of underage and dangerous drinking habits. In a report announcing the summit, Morganelli wrote that while happy and lifelong memories result from college years, “it is also a time of excessive drinking and dealing with the aftermath—vandalism, violence, sexual aggression and even death.”

“Unfortunately, I’ve sat with parents too many times with young kids, high school and colleges kids that have died because of the result of either alcohol ingestion, accidents, and driving, etcetera,” Morganelli said in an interview. These experiences along with “the recent developments at Penn State, and…at Lehigh with the fraternities themselves banning hard liquor, and then with McCrae Williams” made him “feel like this was a good time to bring the colleges together…because none of these colleges are immune from this.”

Williams, a freshman who would have started his first lacrosse season at Lafayette this spring, died at the beginning of the school year as a result of a head injury. According to the series of events which Morganelli outlined at a press conference in September, Williams fell and hit his head after a day of drinking. His friends, thinking he was drunk, attached a backpack to him to prevent him from choking on vomit and checked on him. He laid in bed for nearly a day before they called for help. No charges were filed in the case.

After having spoken with Lafayette’s president, Alison Byerly, Moravian College’s Bryon Grigsby, Lehigh University’s John Simon and Northampton Community College’s Mark Erickson, Morganelli said he is in the process of planning the summit to take place in late May or early June.

The summit is developing now as a response to Morganelli office’s history dealing with alcohol-related crimes coming from colleges in the area. The goals of the summit are to hear speakers, brainstorm ideas and share experiences in order to see what develops and “maybe put together some programs,” Morganelli said.

This past fall, Morganelli and the DA’s office decided not to prosecute any students for the incidents surrounding McCrae Williams’ death. While in this case the DA’s office found no criminality, Morganelli said he felt there was a problem that needed to be addressed on a larger scale.

Morganelli said that he and his office understand that college students will drink, and the goal is not to start a crackdown on these behaviors but rather to “keep kids safe and let them know what their options are,” he said.

In his report, he noted that evidence shows certain risk factors as leading to the most dangerous drinking behaviors in “the first six weeks of enrollment”: being a freshman, being involved in a sorority or fraternity, being an athlete, being white and being male.

His hope is that the summit will result in ideas for each school to lessen the risk in these “danger areas” and perhaps for his office to arrange visits to each school to assist in educating students on things like the Good Samaritan policy. The Northampton County District Attorney’s office also offers the expungement of alcohol charges off permanent records in many cases.

“We would like to encourage a dialogue so that kids know we aren’t here to arrest them for underage drinking…[they need the] knowledge that they can call the police,” Morganelli explained.

“We don’t want to jeopardize your entire life at the age of 19 or 20 because you had a beer at a party,” Morgenalli added. “Our main goal is to keep you safe.”

Annette Diorio, Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, agreed with this message and the goal of encouraging healthy, responsible behavior.

“There’s nothing more important than the health and welfare of our students and all members of the campus community,” Diorio wrote in an email.

Diorio also said that Lafayette already has specific alcohol education programs and policies in place to meet the needs of specific groups on campus, ranging from the extensive orientation programming for freshmen to pamphlets and visits from the Lafayette and Easton police about responsible community membership.

Byerly said Morganelli called her to invite her to the summit, and she is looking forward to sharing best practices and approaches with the leaders of neighboring institutions.