New Information From Police, Coroner About Tragic Accident

MERCED - Additional information has been released about the investigation being conducted by the UC Merced Police Department into the death of Hector Barrera-Barraza, 18, an engineering student at UC Merced, who died in an accident on Saturday, March 17.

The investigation thus far shows that Mr. Barrera-Barraza was at an off-campus party in the city of Merced on the evening of Friday, March 16, where he consumed alcohol. He returned to campus with friends at about 12:30 a.m. and then spent several hours with friends in different on-campus residences until about 4:01 a.m. which is the last time for which there is a known witness account of his being seen alive.

Mr. Barrera-Barraza had a blood alcohol level of .20, Merced County Coroner Mark Pazin stated today (March 22) at a press conference. All findings are consistent with a tragic accident; however, Pazin said that "alcohol was a very determining factor" in Mr. Barrera-Barraza's death.

The coroner also confirmed that Mr. Barrera-Barraza died as the result of a fall and that he died where he fell, estimating the time of Mr. Barrera-Barraza's death between 7 and 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.

In addition to the coroner's report, UC Merced Police Chief Rita Spaur said that the area where Mr. Barrera-Barraza fell is somewhat concealed by bushes. The police department has received accounts from individuals who walked on the sidewalk parallel to Scholars' Lane near the location as late as 8 a.m. stating that those individuals did not see Mr. Barrera-Barraza there.

As stated earlier this week, two students discovered Mr. Barrera-Barraza lying on the ground near Tulare Hall, an on-campus residence, about 9:50 a.m. Saturday. He had no pulse, and a wound to the right side of his head.

The students notified campus police and an ambulance transported Mr. Barrera-Barraza to a local hospital, where resuscitation efforts continued until he was pronounced dead.

"This additional news that sheds light on Hector's accidental death saddens me tremendously," said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang. "Although underage drinking is a well-documented problem on high school and university campuses throughout the country, the reality of the problem hits too close to the heart when you lose one of your own community members."

1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, according to a study by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Since UC Merced opened in 2005, we have worked hard to educate students about the dangers of alcohol abuse along with other dangerous substances through multiple programs developed by the Residence Life Office, the Student Health Center and our campus police department," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs. "I think this tragedy reminds us - students and adults -- about the importance of making responsible choices. We are committed to continue to educate our students about the abuses of alcohol and other drugs."


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