Alcohol Safety And Reducing The Risk Of Drowning

Brendan Santo, 18, a student at Grand Valley State University, visited friends at nearby Michigan State University (MSU) over Halloween weekend last year when he disappeared. Nearly three months later, a private investigator found Santo's body in the Red Cedar River. Santo's death was ruled an accidental drowning by medical examiners. They also reported that alcohol contributed to his death.

Earlier, MSU officials had said they would install hundreds of new security cameras after it was determined the camera at the entrance of the building where Santo was last seen was not working. Local reporters later discovered that approximately 320 cameras had been taken offline before Santo went missing. MSU officials did not install replacements before taking down the security cameras. When reporters asked why the school did not inform their students or the students' parents that the cameras were off, the spokesperson said MSU officials were concerned about "people taking advantage of that." The cameras have since been replaced.

According to Santo's family, earlier this year, a petition was created on calling on MSU to improve safety along Red Cedar River. The petition received more than 22,000 signatures.

Temporary fencing was also put up along the river where Santo's body was found. According to a university spokesperson, the fence near a steep decline that leads into the river will be replaced with permanent fencing.

Investigators believe Santo fell into the river in a similar spot. The safety improvements are expected to be completed by the fall when students return.

SafeMSU, a safety app, was also launched by the school. It was designed with input by students, faculty, and staff. The app features one-touch emergency calls, access to MSU's Safe Ride, and a link to the Capital Area Transportation Authority's NightOwl service.

The app also features a virtual friend walk, allowing users to share their location with a friend who can follow their progress to their destination. It also enables the friend to contact police immediately if they believe there is an emergency. Amy Rock "Michigan State Makes Safety Changes After Death of Visiting Student" (May 09, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the MSU website, “The MSU campus is located within the urbanized portion of the [Red Cedar River] watershed and about two miles of the river runs through MSU’s campus.” This presents a risk for those visiting or attending that campus.

According to the CDC, every year in the United States there are approximately 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings, or an average of 11 drowning deaths per day. The CDC also reports that almost 80 percent of people who die from drowning are male. Factors that may contribute to higher rates of drowning include increased exposure to water, risk-taking behaviors, and alcohol use.

In the source document, it is believed that alcohol contributed to the student’s death.

Authorities handling the case of the accidental drowning in the source article confirmed that alcohol contributed to the death of the student. However, the lack of fencing along the river may have increased his chances of death.

What can schools do to help prevent harm from nearby physical feature dangers?

  • Train students, faculty, and other employees on the presence of the physical feature (ex. river) and the dangers it poses.
  • Make sure visitors to campus are informed, with signage or posters, for example, as well. For example, Cornell University has published a gorge safety bulletin.
  • If possible, install barriers along a body of water, which should be well-lit with active video surveillance.
  • Employ security patrol personnel near the physical danger, especially overnight.
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