The University of Vermont announced that it has suspended all fraternity activities after a 19-year-old man was found dead Saturday (February 2nd) morning. According to a Burlington Police Department spokesman, preliminary autopsy findings indicate that Vermont freshman Connor Gage died from hypothermia and that alcohol intoxication appears to have been a contributing factor. The National Weather Service reported that the overnight temperatures in the Burlington area ranged from 0 to -5°F, with winds of 5 to 10 mph. These conditions would have created a wind chill of -8 to -12° .
As is to be expected in an "active" investigation, the Burlington Police Department has released few details related to Gage's death. However, an entry authored by Andrew Topham on a CaringBridge.org page entitled "Welcome to Connor's CaringBridge Site" gives an account of Connor Gage's last hours.
"He departed the campus with a group of other students to pledge at an off campus, non registered fraternity at approximately 930pm. After arriving at the Frat, the group sometime later departed for another frat house approximately a half mile away. Connor departed the second location alone around 1230 am, and walked north again as we suspect he was returning to the first frat house to retrieve his backpack.
"A parking lot security camera showed Connor trying to cut through their lot at approximately 115am, about 2 blocks west of the Frat house.
"He wasn't able to climb the fence, and after several attempts appears as if he layed [sic] down in the snow to rest.
"He was found unresponsive at 1050 Saturday morning, and despite the best efforts of first responders and medical personnel, they were unable to resuscitate him."
The fraternity that Gage was allegedly pledging is not named in any currently available sources. Assuming that the "non-registered fraternity" statement in the preceding section is correct, there are three fraternities that Gage could have visited that night.
On its Department of Student Life / Fraternity and Sorority Life pages, the University of Vermont lists three fraternities as "unrecognized:"
Alpha Epsilon PI was initially suspended for 5 years in 2014 for hazing and alcohol violations. This fraternity is still recognized by its national headquarters, although the University of Vermont considers it suspended "in perpetuity."
Under Vermont law (16 V.S.A. § 570), hazing "… means any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or in concert with others, against another student … which is intended to have the effect of, or should reasonably be expected to have the effect of, endangering the mental or physical health of the student." The same law makes no distinction between individual actors or groups and provides that upon a conviction on a charge of hazing, an admission of guilt, or a plea of "no contest," a civil fine of up to $5,000 can be imposed.
At this time, hazing is not a criminal act in the State of Vermont.
We will be posting updates in this case as they become available.