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NMSU Student Dies of Alcohol Poisoning

Staff and Wire Report
    LAS CRUCES— A New Mexico State University fraternity member died Friday after his 21st birthday celebration led to alcohol poisoning, according to the university.
    Steven Judd of El Paso, a junior criminal justice major, marked his birthday with other Delta Chi fraternity members late Wednesday night and early Thursday at two Las Cruces bars, said police Lt. Randy Lara.
    Judd and his friends returned to the fraternity house after 2 a.m. Fraternity members called police and emergency medical workers about 8:30 a.m. after finding Judd unconscious and not breathing. Fraternity brothers tried to revive Judd until paramedics arrived.
    He was taken to a Las Cruces hospital, then airlifted to Thomason Hospital in El Paso, where he was listed in critical condition until his death Friday.
    "The university is shocked and saddened by this tragic loss," said NMSU President Michael Martin. "Steven Judd was a bright student with a wonderful future ahead of him. Our sympathies and prayers are with his family and his friends as they cope with this terrible loss."
    In a statement released through the university Friday, Judd's family said they "hope that Steven's untimely death will be a learning experience for others."
    The young man had massive hemorrhaging in his brain, said family friend Wirt Atmar, Judd's boss at an engineering firm where Judd worked on computer software.
    Judd told his father he planned to go drinking with fraternity friends as soon as Thursday— his birthday— arrived, Atmar said.
    Lara said police have no evidence of foul play or hazing.
    "It's a case of someone celebrating too much and drinking too much and not taking care of himself," Lara said.
    At least two students who partied with Judd told police that Judd had consumed 15 to 18 shots of hard liquor, along with three or four beers, the previous night, Lara said.
    A determination of Judd's blood-alcohol content was pending completion of an autopsy in El Paso, Lara said.
    Judd was president-elect of the Delta Chi fraternity, which is housed off campus.
    "Everyone is taken aback by it," said Aaron Villalobos, president of Greeks Advocating the Mature Management of Alcohol (GAMMA), a group that provides educational outreach on alcohol, sexual issues, stress management and other topics for students. "Every time something like this happens, it affects everyone at the university, and this is definitely one of those things that, if you were close to Steven or didn't know him at all, it's ringing close to home."
    The State Police Alcohol Enforcement Unit, which has jurisdiction over establishments that sell alcohol, is also investigating the circumstances surrounding Judd's death.
    Alcohol was a factor in the deaths of at least four university students in Colorado, Oklahoma and Arkansas this fall. The cause of three of the deaths was officially ruled alcohol poisoning.
    Authorities say most of the estimated 1,400 alcohol-related deaths each year among college students come in automobile and other accidents, with about 300 deaths tied to alcohol poisoning.
    At blood-alcohol levels of 0.25 to 0.40, alcohol poisoning can lead to slurred speech, stupor, coma and eventually death.
    NMSU has begun an investigation and has informed the national Delta Chi organization of the incident, university spokeswoman Maureen Howard said.
    There have been several other recent examples in which young people in New Mexico have died of alcohol poisoning.
    In perhaps the best-known case, 14-year-old Felisha Holguin, a student at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, died in February 2002 after joining several other girls in drinking from a gallon bottle of vodka.
    In October 2002, 18-year-old University of New Mexico freshman Kevin Johns died after consuming up to 20 shots of liquor at a Halloween party.
    And early last year, Marcus Pena, 16, of Milan, a sophomore at Thoreau High School, apparently drank himself to death at a northeast Albuquerque apartment, after drinking a bottle of brandy and passing out, according to police.
    The problem of underage drinking led to passage of a law by the 2004 Legislature making it a felony for an adult to purchase alcohol for anyone under 21, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and 18 months in jail.
    Ironically, in Judd's case, it was apparently the celebration of his reaching legal drinking age that led to his death.