Northwestern University sophomore Harsha Maddula’s blood alcohol level was nearly 1.5 times the legal limit, leading Evanston police to believe alcohol was a contributing factor in his drowning last fall.
Maddula, a pre-med student from Garden City Park, N.Y., disappeared about 12:30 a.m., Sept. 22 after attending an off-campus party in a building in Evanston on the 2100 block of Ridge Avenue.
His body was found five days later by a fisherman near a tower on the west side of Wilmette Harbor, north of campus.
The Cook County’s Medical Examiner earlier ruled the cause of death as undetermined.
Evanston police, drawing on extensive interviews and examination of records, are labeling the cause of death as accidental, with alcohol considered a contributing factor, Cmdr. Jay Parrott, the department’s media officer, said Tuesday, detailing the status of the investigation.
Parrott said the Cook County Medical Examiner’s toxicology exam found Maddula’s blood-alcohol level was .125 percent compared to the .08 percent legal limit in Illinois.
Parrott said though a witness saw Maddula smoke marijuana the night of the party, police do not believe that drug contributes to self-harming behavior as alcohol and certain drugs might.
He said police conducted an extensive investigation, which included interviews with witnesses, examination of the scene, and a study of cell phone records and effects the 18-year-old left behind.
In all those things, there’s no indication to believe that Harsha did harm to himself, or his death “involved any kind of foul play or wrongful action,” Parrott said.
Parrott said the police investigation showed Maddula received a call from a friend after leaving the party, and indicated he was near his dormitory.
Cell phone transmissions, however, showed he was walking north along Ridge, crossing Sheridan Road and on to the harbor, Parrott said.
Investigators also found that his zipper was down, Parrott divulged, suggesting that the student had stopped to urinate off the narrow pier, slipped and then fell in the water.
At the harbor, lake levels were down five to seven feet. Because of the drop, Maddula, who family members said was a good swimmer, might have become disoriented while reaching for a ladder or post, Parrott said.
He said a bruise found on the student’s head in the post mortem exam is believed to have occurred either in the fall, in an area where boats were docked, or during the long time the body was submerged in the water.
Underage drinking is a definite concern, in the incident, aside from the legal factor but because of the poor decisions people make when in such conditions, Parrott acknowledged.
The investigation indicated that Maddula left the party unaccompanied, an action males are more prone to do, he said.
Maddula’s death occurred just before the start of the Northwestern school year, shaking the university community.
Some students joined police in searching for witnesses who might have had information. Family members flew in from New York and put up a $25,000 reward for information.
Parrott said family members were informed of the status of the case last week.