Updated: Evanston Police reach conclusion in Harsha Maddula investigation
February 25, 2013
Evanston Police told The Daily on Monday they have concluded the death of McCormick sophomore Harsha Maddula was “accidental in nature with ... a contributing factor of alcohol.”
Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said police made this conclusion after receiving toxicology results and a consistent urinalysis test from the Cook County medical examiner's office indicated the 18-year-old's blood alcohol content was about 1.5 times the .08 level at which it is illegal to drive a car in Illinois. Although the medical examiner officially ruled the case “undetermined,” police determined alcohol played a role based on these test results and witnesses who observed Maddula consuming alcoholic beverages and smoking marijuana at the off-campus party where he was last seen Sept. 22.
“All people react to alcohol consumption differently,” Parrott said. “It’s very hard to predict how his reaction occurred.”
Maddula’s body was recovered from the Wilmette Harbor on Sept. 27. The next day, a postmortem examination concluded the cause of Maddula’s death was drowning. Parrott said there were no signs of foul play and Maddula was found with all of his possessions.
“His body had no indications at all of any type of trauma in terms of blunt trauma or trauma that was forced by someone else,” Parrott said.
According to a statement from Parrott obtained by The Daily, police used a voice stress analyzer "to detect deception" when interviewing witnesses close to Maddula. The statement said "no deceptive indicators were present based on this exam."
Parrott said Maddula did have bruising on his head, but the medical examiner concluded the marks were consistent with falling into the water or his head brushing up against a pier support or boat during the five days before his body was recovered. Parrott also said Maddula was found with his pants zipper undone.
“This is a possible indicator that he may have stopped to urinate at the harbor,” Parrott said.
He explained this indicates that Maddula may have fallen if he had attempted to urinate along the side near concrete or if he walked out onto the pier. Parrott said Maddula’s family has expressed he was a strong swimmer, but potential factors that may have contributed to his drowning include the low water levels of the harbor at the time of his death as well as the possibility that he ingested water when he fell into the harbor.
Parrott said at this time there is no evidence that Maddula’s death was a suicide, after a police examination of his bedroom and laptop.
“There are no indicators that he had any desire to harm himself,” Parrott said.
Parrott also said it did not appear that Maddula’s diabetes played any role in his death. Maddula was recently diagnosed as diabetic, but the medical examiner’s report showed his glucose levels were normal.
Parrott said if any new information that was verifiable were to come forward, the police would look into it, but this is their determination upon receiving the results of the medical examiner’s report about two weeks ago.
“At this time, there doesn’t appear to be any more information other than what we’ve developed over the last five months,” Parrott said.
The University responded to the news with a statement from Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, in an email on Monday night, that expressed the University's condolences to Maddula's family and friends.
"We are saddened by the fact that alcohol may have been a factor in Harsha’s death," the statement said. "Northwestern has long had in place policies and programs to address alcohol and substance abuse, including required alcohol education for all new students, intervention training for students, counseling services for alcohol and substance abuse problems, and disciplinary rules that address standards students are expected to meet."
The statement also said the University continues to address the problem and notes the University funds research into alcohol and substance abuse on college campuses.
This article has been updated to include Maddula's age and to clarify that .08 is the BAC level at which it is illegal to operate a vehicle in Illinois.