Evanston Police consider accidental death in Harsha Maddula investigation
November 30, 2012
After more than two months of interviewing witnesses, Evanston Police believe Harsha Maddula’s death was the result of an accident and are waiting on toxicology results that could reveal whether alcohol was involved in the McCormick sophomore’s disappearance.
“At this time, Maddula’s death appears to be accidental in nature and alcohol may have been a contributing factor,” EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott said Thursday. “However, Evanston Police are not confirming anything until toxicology results are returned.”
Maddula was last seen leaving an off-campus party in the early morning hours of Sept. 22. Five days later, a fisherman discovered Maddula’s body floating in Wilmette Harbor, which is about two miles north of Ridge Avenue house Maddula was last seen leaving.
A spokeswoman in the Cook County medical examiner’s office said earlier this week that “no new information” has been added to Maddula’s autopsy report since the cause of death — drowning — was announced the day after his body was found. The manner of death remains undetermined, meaning it could have been an accident or suicide.
Parrott stressed that witness interviews are “subjective opinions based on people that were involved with (Maddula) that night,” some of whom admitted to being intoxicated themselves. Witness statements have already confirmed that Maddula was seen consuming alcohol at the off-campus party.
It remains unclear when the toxicology test on Maddula’s body will be complete. Officials’ estimates have ranged from six to 12 weeks after the date of death. Maddula family spokeswoman Padma Sonti said Maddula’s parents have been told to expect toxicology results by the end of December.
EPD requested a “very thorough” toxicology analysis that checks for more indicators than a normal test, Parrott said. Such elaborate examinations are normal when a young person is involved and there are no signs of foul play, a premise that authorities have maintained over the past two months.
Maddula’s peers have told The Daily that the McCormick sophomore did not appear intoxicated the night he went missing. Weinberg sophomore Linzy Wagner, president of Maddula’s dorm and a close friend, described him as “coherent” in the hours before he disappeared.
“I felt like he was handling himself fine,” Wagner said Tuesday. “He seemed in control.”
For the Maddula family, the toxicology results could bring some closure to a two-month saga that worsened in early November when Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast. Sonti said the Maddulas lost power for about a week at their home in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
“It’s a very rough thing,” Sonti said. “Since it happened, nothing’s been going right. First it was their son. Then it was Sandy tearing their area apart.”
She added that although the Maddulas want answers about their son’s death, they still have to focus on raising their other children.
University spokesman Al Cubbage said NU officials have kept in touch with Maddula’s parents “as appropriate.”
“They have questions and all that,” Sonti said, “but they’re just trying to make it through the day together, too.”