OXFORD, Ohio – As tragic as it was, the binge drinking death of a Miami University student last month wasn’t the first.
Ten years ago, a drunken underage sophomore was hit by a freight train at a railroad crossing near campus. Police said she wandered away from several students who had given her alcohol and taken her to bars. In the aftermath, her underage friends had to go to court and face charges.
Police said they didn’t know why 19-year-old Beth Speidel was walking alone on South Locust Street at 1 a.m. that Saturday morning, April 14, 2007. The speech pathology major from Strongsvillle, Ohio, was about a mile from her dorm room at Hahne Hall when she was hit by a 53-car freight train going 35 mph.
Her body wasn’t discovered until 3:16 a.m. when another train came by in the opposite direction.
The coroner said she died of head trauma. No witnesses came forward. Police ruled out foul play or suicide, though other students have deliberately killed themselves on the tracks, records show. There was no indication that the crossing guard or warning lights and bells malfunctioned, they said.
Speidel’s blood alcohol level, 0.229, was nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08.
Speidel’s five female friends were accused of giving her alcohol at their Brown Street apartment complex. Oxford police Sgt. Jim Squance said they also took her to at least two bars. Squance said Speidel had two checkmarks on her hand. That’s how local bars marked underage patrons who shouldn’t be served.
Oxford police took the rare step of charging Speidel’s friends with misdemeanors. Squance, a 29-year veteran, said it was the first time he could remember charges filed for supplying alcohol in an alcohol-related death.
But the evidence clearly pointed to Speidel's friends, he said.
Danielle Davis and Kristina Sicker, both 20, and Kathleen Byrne and Christine Carr, both 19, were charged with permitting underage consumption at private residences.
Maureen Grady, 20, was accused of buying alcohol for Speidel at a bar on Main Street.
WATCH Maureen Grady appear in court:
If convicted, they faced up to six months in jail and a $3,000 fine.
“We have an obligation and a duty to issue citations if we feel there’s been a violation of the law, and that’s exactly what we did,” Squance told The Enquirer.
"In the past couple of years, we've kind of dodged the bullet. We've seen a number of cases that could have ended in tragedy, but they didn't because someone took some type of action to alleviate a disaster."
In the end, after repeated court hearings, nobody went to jail. Grady and Davis pleaded guilty to charges of underage drinking and the others got off.
Grady was fined $500 and agreed to complete a two-day alcohol education program.
“For somebody who didn’t have a prior record, it’s an appropriate sentence,” said assistant prosecutor Michael Baker.
Davis also accepted a diversion program. She agreed to donate $100 to a law enforcement trust fund and perform 30 hours of community service.
Both Grady and Davis had their records expunged.
A judge threw out the charges against the others after Carr produced an alibi and Byrne and Sicker claimed they weren’t Mirandized. Prosecutors appealed the decision for Byrne and Sicker and won in August 2008, but records don’t indicate that they pursued the charges.
After Grady’s plea, her parents issued a statement attacking police and prosecutors. They said “deceitful” police tricked Speidel’s friends into incriminating themselves and prosecutors were “overzealous” because they decided that “someone had to be held responsible.”
Sadly, as recent events at Miami appear to show, neither Speidel’s death nor the charges brought against her friends have been a deterrent to the latest generation of binge drinkers on campus.
It’s hard to see that anything has changed from 10 years ago.
“That is one of the sad things about living in a college town … seeing all the students that drink,” Dwayne McClellan, who lived near the raIlroad crossing, told The Enquirer in 2007. “It could be a lot safer around here if they didn’t.”
“They need to do something,” said Amy Middlebrook, a 22-year-old Miami grad tending bar that summer. “Binge drinking is very big problem in this town. They need to crack down … It’s very easy to obtain alcohol anywhere.”
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