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Officials trying to stop off-campus drinking

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The Phi Sigma Kappa house has a reputation for being a party house. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Moorhead police continue to investigate the death of Patrick Kycia, 19, who drowned in the Red River last week. Kycia was a student at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. His death is the second in 18 months linked to a campus fraternity. Last March, a 21-year-old Fargo man was found dead at the same fraternity house. He died of alcohol poisoning. Patrick Kycia's death has revived calls to address the problem of binge drinking.

Moorhead, Minn. — It's a simple-looking house in an avergae neighborhood. Two stories with a deck out front. It could be a house in any residential neighborhood in Moorhead. But this home has a reputation for being a party house. Members of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity live here. It's the last place Patrick Kycia was seen alive.

Members of the fraternity have declined requests to talk about what happened to Kycia. The national office of the fraternity issued a statement saying Kycia was not given alcohol or drugs by any fraternity member. The fraternity also says it is cooperating with police in the investigation of Kycia's death.

Eyewitnesses say Kycia attended a party at the frat house. There are reports he was drinking heavily. Preliminary autopsy results list Kycia as a drowning victim. Police suspect when the final autopsy is released, it will reveal Kycia was intoxicated.

University officials say it's a frustrating time. Doug Hamilton, executive director of university enhancement, says school officials are investigating the incident, but they're limited by state and federal privacy laws about what they can say.

"What we can't do is give people a play-by-play and I think if the assumption is we're not doing anything, that is an in correct assumption," says Hamilton. "We have discussions about it daily and those discussions are ongoing and will involve other groups as necessary."

Hamilton says those meetings will include city officials and local police. MSUM is a dry campus; alcohol is forbidden on school property and not allowed at school functions. However, the Phi Sigma Kappa house is off campus, so the university has no authority there.

The Moorhead City Council may play a role. The city is updating its rental licensing codes. City Council member Dan Hunt wants to prohibit alcohol in any rental house that is home to a Greek organization.

"Whether it's owned by the fraternity or sorority or whatever, they have to be dry," says Hunt. "I don't believe any fraternity should be allowed to have alcohol on their premise unless every member of that fraternity is over 21."

City attorneys are researching Hall's idea to see if it can stand up to a legal challenge.

Doug Hamilton says the college needs help addressing the problem. He says landlords should report problem renters to the college. That creates an official complaint and only then, can the college investigate and take disciplinary action against the student.

"Then you have a complaint and that starts a disciplinary process," says Hamilton. "But you have to know first and that's the issue we've been wrestling with."

Kycia's death has left many people on campus stunned. Shana Levin, a freshman at MSUM, says the incident has gotten the attention of many students.

"I think one unfortunate event and people tend to think, 'well maybe it was an unfortunate accident, just a one time thing,'" says Levin. "But two events, I think, will start to change their minds because I thought the same thing last year. I thought, 'well you can't hold everyone else reliable for that.'"

There are other signs that attitudes are changing. Edward J.T. Brown, a student at MSUM, has petitioned the Student Senate to close the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

The Student Senate has not taken action on the request. Brown says there is a sense on campus that something must be done. Even when a student drinks illegally, he says, there are simple safety measures to take. If someone had gotten Patrick Kycia a cab, or escorted him home, Brown says Kycia's death may have been prevented.

"He probably would have woken up with a hangover if very simple things would have been done by his fellow students at that party," says Brown. "That is what has really infuriated students on this campus."

Binge drinking is becoming universal on campuses. In fact since Kycia's death, three other 19-year-olds have been hospitalized in Moorhead for over-consumption of alcohol.

No one has been charged or arrested in connection with Patrick Kycia's death. Police say it could be several weeks before final autopsy results are available.

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