News Tidbits 10/08: An Addition to Cornell’s Morbid History

9 10 2008

Okay, I’ll bite, because thirty-six views in the past hour on this blog have been under the search line “death gorge cascadilla october 8”. I don’t tend to be a big supporter of current morbid news, because it’s sort of like slowing down to look at a horrific car accident. That being said, here’s the information being released at this time.


ITHACA — Emergency officials are investigating the death of man who was found in the Cascadilla Creek gorge beneath the College Avenue Bridge Wednesday.

Ithaca Police, Cornell University Police, Ithaca firefighters and Bangs Ambulance personnel responded to the report of a body lying in the gorge at about 2 p.m., the Ithaca Police said. A caller to the Tompkins County 911 Center had said a man had jumped from the bridge, they added.

Officers interviewed witnesses and gathered preliminary details, police said. Ithaca firefighters and Bangs Ambulance personnel removed the body from the gorge and transported it the Cayuga Medical Center morgue, police said. The bridge was closed for about an hour.

Though the investigation is continuing, there are no signs of foul play at this time, police officials said. The man’s name is being withheld pending notification of his family, they added.

For the record, this is not one of the more popular jumping bridges. The bridges on north, particularly Stewart Avenue and Thurston Avenue, are much more popular. I don’t mean that in a good way.

From the Sun:

At about 2:00 p.m., a male body was found at the bottom of Cascadilla Gorge, under the bridge connecting Collegetown to Central Campus. A Cornell Police officer stated that a person allegedly dove head-first into the gorge. Around 2:30, the body of the deceased man was removed on a stretcher and transported to the Cayuga Medical Center Morgue by Bangs Ambulance. The victim has been identified, but his name is being withheld pending notification of the family.

In response to the suicide, the Ithaca Police Department, Cornell Police, Bangs Ambulance and Ithaca Fire Department reported to the scene. They closed the College Avenue Bridge to pedestrians and vehicular traffic for about an hour.

The IPD is still investigating the case and whether or not the victim was a Cornell student. Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said, “I wouldn’t conclude it was a [Cornell] student. From what I can tell, it doesn’t seem like it was … I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions.”

While this suicide is an isolated incident, incidence of suicide at Cornell is consistent with the national average in higher education, which is 7/100,000 per year, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett. The last time an enrolled student died by suicide at Cornell was in 2006, and since 2002, there have been five student deaths due to suicide.

For those upset by the situation and looking to seek counseling, Gannett’s counseling services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “At Cornell, every member of the community has a role to play in expressing concern and providing support for one another, particularly to a student who is hurting,” Dittman stated. She urged students to go to Gannett’s website to obtain information about how to get support, give support to a friend, and connect a student to services.

In addition to counseling, the University has a crisis management team overseeing the situation. “Crisis managers are prepared to meet with students who may have been upset and concerned,” Hubbell said. To get in touch with a crisis manager, students should contact the Cornell Police at 255-1111. With any additional information regarding this case, please contact the IPD at 272-9973.

UPDATE (from WVBR): The body found yesterday in the Cascadilla Creek Gorge under the College Avenue Bridge has been identified as a 1998 Cornell alum. 33 year old Jakub Janecka allegedly dove head first into the gorge sometime before 2:00 pm yesterday. His body was removed from the gorge around 2:30 and brought to the morgue at Cayuga Medical Center. It is not clear why Janecka, a native of Lake Ariel Pennsylvania, was in Ithaca yesterday. The Ithaca Police Department is still investigating the case.


For the record, the last student suicide recorded was that of Ash Thotambilu ’06, a student from the Human Ecology School. That was in May 2006 [1]. Since 1996, there have been 22 recorded student suicides (notably, 15 were those who identified themselves as being of Asian descent) [2].  Since 1990, at least ten suicides have been attributed to the gorges in the Ithaca area.


Cornell’s Morbid History

29 07 2008

This is not a very fun topic to talk about, and I completely understand if someone is uncomfortable reading it. I am by no means offended if anyone chooses not to read this entry.


So today, I was at work when one of my supervisors opened up discussion about some of the students she has had as employees over the past twenty years. She originally worked with the hotel before transferring to store operations a couple of years ago. two particularly tragic moments sttod out in her mind; one was the death of a student after they were hit by a TCAT bus, and the other was a case where two students who had been using drugs at a party jumped from the Statler right around Hotel Ezra Cornell.

So, I decided to do a little side research into Cornell’s darker, morbid history. The first incident my supervisor recalled was the death of junior Michelle Evans after she was struck and killed by a TCAT on Dragon Day in March 2000 [1]. The driver of the bus was D.U.I. and strayed from the street. The Evans family would later sue TCAT and Cornell and was awarded a settlement of $3 million, which has been used to set up a memorial scholarship in her name.

The other incident I have yet to find any inforamation on. She said it was unlikely I’d find much anyway, since the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible (how you do that with two students jumping to their death must be quite a feat).

Cornell is no stranger to death in the student population. One of the more famous cases is the death of lacrosse player Mario St. George Boiardi, a senior who was struck in the chest with a ball while playing defesneman during a game versus Binghamton. He collapsed on the field, and although attempts were made to revive him, Boiardi was prononuced dead at Cayuga Medical Center at 6:44 P.M. on March 17, 2004 [2]. My supervisor was still at the hotel when the family arrived in Ithaca, and she described Mrs. Boiardi as “blotto”, as she had to carried by two people, since she was moaning in grief and wandering aimlessly through the lobby when they came for their son. She further described that Mrs. Boiardi seemed “all cried out, like she ran out of tears.”

Other times, an individual feels that should take their own life. Cornell is one of the few institutions that keeps a relatively accurate track of suicide, probably because of our infamous, and rather unfair, reputation; records indicate that it averages 4.3 per 100,000 student years, or about .82 deaths a year (assuming 19,000 students at Cornell; this does not distinguish between grad and undergrad) [3]. This is below the national average, which stands at about 7.5 per 100,000 student years. But as contradictory as things like to be, this DUE letter says it is 1.56 per 100,000 [12].

As for jumping from the gorge, a popular jab at our institution:

1- Takehiro Hara, a law student from Tokyo, accidentally fell into the gorge around December 3, 1999. His body was recovered two days later. His death was ruled accidental, with the cause being asphyxiation by drowning. [1]

2- Dan Pirfo, a freshman from Washington D.C, disappeared during the night of April 24, 2005. His body was located on May 10 at the base of Ithaca Falls. [4]

3- Junior Keith O’Donnell died on September 13, 2007, after suffering head injuries sustained in a fall after falling 30 feet into Cascadilla Gorge near the Glen Walk on the 8th of the month. [5] Curiously, a later sun article reports this as a drowning death [6].

4- The drowning death of graduate student Aravind Lakshamanan on August 14, 2006, the third that month. A 28 year old visitor, Navin Parthasarathy of California, and a local man in his 60s also lost their lives in the gorge that same month, although the latter has been disputed as to whether or not it was a suicide. [6, 7]

5- Most recently, the death of Douglas Lowe ’11, who drowned June 12, 2008 after being caught in the strong current of the Fall Creek Gorge. [6]

Most of the recent gorge deaths don’t appear to be suicides, but tragic accidental deaths.

Another cause of death are fire-related injuries/ailments, such as the death of fifth-year art student Ian Alberta on May, 13 2006. Alberta was killed when his apartment caught fire as the result of smoking materials not being put out properly, according to news reports [13]. I walk past that house every day on my way to work; it cost $50,000 to reapir damages, but someone fixed it up. With the exception of the awkward shingle patches on the roof, you’d never know anything had happened here.

And sometimes, and this is what would really, really suck, is that you just up and die. That’s pretty much what happened to a 25 year old grad student in his lab in April 2003. He just collapsed at 10 P.M. on April 1, and died the following morning in the hospital[8]. Or the death of Scott Paavola, a sophomore in engineering, who died Oct. 15, 2002, of a medical condition associated with an enlarged heart. Yet, he was perfectly healthy otherwise, a swimmer for Cornell and a brother at Phi Kappa Psi [11].

I’m not even making a decent attempt to chronicle earlier deaths. The gorge death of Danny Sastrowardoyo ’87, who died May 30, 1986 [7]. The beating death of junior Todd M. Crane on October 5, 1989 [9]. The curious death of Terrence Quinn ’93, who was found dead and upside-down in Psi Upsilon’s chimney on Janurary 15, 1993 [10]. He wasn’t even a member of that house, and no one knows exactly how he got there; but he died of “positional asphyxia”, meaning the way his neck was bent slowly cut off his air supply, suffocating him.

Even after this entry was initially written, I have  come back to include the deaths of Matthew Lanzing ’09 [14] and Nicolas Kau ’12 [15] (it would appear that Kau died over vacation, falling from a ninth story window [16]). The swine flu scare resulted in hundreds being sick, and at least one student who died from complications related to the H1N1 virus, Warren J. Schor ’11, an AEM student who was a member of ZBT.

In a school of 19,000+ students, bad things are going to happen as a matter of probability and reality. We accept these risks as we live life at Cornell day-to-day. It’s tragic, and it’s still a (sad) part of our history as an institution.


Holy crap, if it bleeds, it leads…a lot: