Sophomore Laura Treanor’s death this January in Ivory Tower was caused by alcohol poisoning, according to the D.C. Medical Examiner’s office.
Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Medical Examiner, said the cause of death was classified as acute alcohol intoxication, a clinical term for alcohol poisoning. Fields said she could not release Treanor’s blood alcohol level or any further details about the death, which was determined to be an accident.
Roommates found Treanor, 19, dead on the morning of Jan. 23 in their dorm room. Following the death, University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said it “appears Laura died of natural causes.”
The night before, Treanor had visited the Adams Mill bar in Adams Morgan, several bar patrons said. One of the last people to see her alive, sophomore Max Mahoney, said in January that he last saw her in Ivory Tower “after midnight” and that there was no indication she was sick. Mahoney declined to comment for this article. A manager at Adams Mill also declined to comment.
Ann-Marie Treanor, Laura’s mother, said in an interview Wednesday night that she is looking for more details about her daughter’s death, specifically what happened in Ivory Tower, to get closure.
“I don’t understand how if someone walks into a dorm and appears – from what I was told – OK, how a few hours later, she doesn’t wake up,” Treanor said, adding that she was concerned that the University was not more actively investigating.
University President Steven Knapp issued a statement on Wednesday, after the cause of death was released, but his office declined to comment any further.
“We were all saddened by this reminder of the untimely death of this promising young student and beloved member of our GW Community,” Knapp wrote.
Schario said the University Police Department closed its initial investigation of the incident on Jan. 23, the day of Treanor’s death, and that “UPD is no longer investigating.” Schario added officials “have an understanding of what happened” and noted that Treanor was off campus with friends the night before she died.
“We may never know the circumstances around the tragic nature of Laura’s death, it’s incredibly unfortunate,” Schario said.
The D.C. Medical Examiner’s office took more than 90 days to determine a cause and manner of death, longer than most investigations. The family had told the office about several of Treanor’s prior medical conditions, such as Lyme Disease, Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, and a cardiological problem – all of which may have extended the investigation.
John Adams, an expert in medical examinations and the former chair of the Pathology Department at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said that bacterial and viral tests often result in prolonged death investigations because they are specific for each category of virus and bacteria. Adams, who is not affiliated with the Treanor case, said that determining the cause of death can often be like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Treanor was The Hatchet’s contributing Life editor and a member of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. She was also active in the Newman Catholic Center on campus, where she served as a lector in 2008.
Her friends described her as generous, loving and good-humored. Junior Hope Ditto, a close friend and sorority sister of Treanor’s, said those who knew her best found the cause of death surprising.
“I think, like many people, I was shocked and a little taken aback by yesterday’s news,” said Ditto, who spoke at Treanor’s memorial service in January. “It is certainly bittersweet for me and I just hope that this does not color the way people remember Laura.”
Ditto said she was thankful for “all that Laura has taught me – in life and in death.”
“I know it has been said many times since her passing, but Laura was a spirited and passionate person who brought a contagious energy and joy for life to any and all situations,” Ditto said. “Laura’s life was filled with love – she loved her family, her friends, her writing, her faith and her country. She loved the Rat Pack, blue nail polish and Irish culture.”
Junior Jordan Blase, another friend and sorority sister of Treanor’s, said that finding out the cause of death had not made losing Treanor any easier.
“The results haven’t given me much closure, just a few answers,” Blase said. “Laura was such a beautiful, caring person. These results shouldn’t define our memory of her, but instead remind us how fragile and short life can be.”
Treanor was the first student to die on campus in about four years. About 35 college-aged people die from alcohol poisoning each year, according to the most recent information available from the Associated Press.
Ditto said, “I can only hope that, moving forward, others will take what Laura’s passing has reminded us to heart.”
How to tell if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning
- The person is unconscious or semi-conscious and cannot be awakened
- Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
- Vomiting while passed out or not waking up after vomiting
What to do if you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning
- Check to see if breathing is slow, less than eight times per minute, or irregular, with ten seconds or more between breaths.
- Do not leave the person alone. Turn them on their side to prevent choking in case of vomiting
- Call someone who can help – a staff member, ambulance, police officer.
Source: GW’s Center for Alcohol and Drug Education
This article appeared in the April 30, 2009 issue of the Hatchet.