I’ve been following the high-profile, alcohol-related headlines at West Virginia University as both an alum and a Morgantown criminal defense lawyer who handles a high volume of DUI defense, public intoxication, and underage drinking cases (and yes, many of those clients are or were current WVU students when I represented them).
When news broke that a West Virginia University freshman died at a frat house, I wrote about how the culture of alcohol abuse at WVU (specifically) and colleges and universities (in general) needs to change. Today, more WVU news broke regarding that student’s death, and it reinforced what I’ve long believed: That fun can turn deadly and that students need to be more aware of that. Case in point: It was reported today that Nolan Burch, that freshman student, had a blood-alcohol content of .493 percent. For those following along at home, the legal limit for intoxication in West Virginia is .08 percent. So that means Mr. Nolan wasn’t twice or even three times the legal limit. He was more than six times the legal limit. And I can absolutely and without question add that in my experience with DUI defense in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I have never seen a BAC even remotely close to that high.
We discussed the news story here at the office, and my office manager asked, “How is it possible for someone to be able to drink that much alcohol that quickly?” Fair question. While details of what exactly Mr. Nolan consumed were not listed in the story, I can only imagine the culprit was grain alcohol – which can be 95 percent alcohol by volume, and which has no taste. My Pennsylvania friends might not be as familiar with the stuff, since it’s not legal in the Keystone State. But in West Virginia? Fair game. And that might be one of many things that need to change in order for the culture to change.
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