Guest killed in blaze at college party Victim, 20, who fell asleep with cigarette, not a Hopkins student

Fliers promoted private event

University officials issue warnings about alcohol use

September 01, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

A guest at a back-to-school party for Johns Hopkins University students was killed yesterday morning in a fire after he fell asleep holding a lighted cigarette, police and fire officials said.

The incident occurred at a rowhouse near the campus days before the university's classes start Thursday and prompted school officials to issue warnings about alcohol use to incoming freshmen.

"It's a tragedy, and it mars the beginning of the academic year, a time of celebration and new beginning," said Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman. "The university will continue to urge its students to play as responsibly as they study."

Police identified the victim as Michael Christopher Salvino, 20, of Joppatowne who was not a student but attended the party Saturday night in the 3200 block of N. Calvert St., which had been heavily advertised in fliers on the Hopkins campus.

Police and fire officials said Salvino was asleep on a couch in the basement with a lighted cigarette when it apparently started the fire about 7 a.m. They said the fire quickly spread through the house, which did not have smoke detectors.

Salvino apparently tried to escape but could not open the basement's bolted back door, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. Salvino suffered smoke inhalation and was pronounced dead at the scene, the spokesman said. Fire officials could not determine last night whether alcohol played a role in his death.

The fire was among three in the city yesterday that injured eight other people -- one of them critically.

Officials said the house was rented by five people, several of whom are Johns Hopkins students -- four were home at the time of the fire and escaped, Torres said. One of the tenants, 20-year-old Peter Hunsaker of Westwood, Mass., suffered smoke inhalation and walked to Union Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released.

At a freshman convocation yesterday afternoon, Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody mentioned the incident and said deans would discuss the issue of alcohol and substance abuse with students today.

He also urged the 940 incoming freshmen to think seriously about how they will handle college life, saying "with your new freedom comes a new sense of responsibility to yourselves and to others."

O'Shea said some of the students could be disciplined by the university for providing alcohol to minors.

Yesterday morning, some of the tenants -- 20-year-old Kip Lubliner of New York, 24-year-old David Douglass of Branford, Conn., and 21-year-old Robert Stett -- drifted in and out of the house bleary-eyed and morose.

Surrounded by leftover plastic cups of wine and beer on their front porch, they chain-smoked and would not comment on the incident except to say the party had been a small affair, to which only "close friends" had come. They said they did not know Salvino.

But Northern Police District Sgt. Richard Stuhmer said about 60 people attended the party in the five-bedroom house. News of the event was spread through invitational fliers distributed across campus, Stuhmer said. Neighbors said that a band had played in the basement and that the revelers had partied well past 2 a.m.

Salvino, who worked for a Joppatowne Gap clothing store, had gone to the party with a freshman friend from New York after helping him move into his campus dorm, Stuhmer said. The friend, whom Stuhmer and O'Shea would not identify, found Salvino asleep on the basement couch about 6 a.m. and left when he could not wake him, Stuhmer said.

Salvino apparently woke up at about 7 a.m., lighted a cigarette and fell back asleep, Stuhmer said.

"In a party situation, it should be somebody's responsibility to make sure all smoking material is properly extinguished at the end of the party," Torres said.

Torres said because the rowhouse was a single-family dwelling, it was the tenants' responsibility to install smoke detectors. Damage to the $95,000 rowhouse was estimated at $25,000, and the house will probably be condemned because of structural damage, Torres said. A city building inspector said a crew will be sent to check the house tomorrow.

The rowhouse's owners, Michael and Tarik Soliman of New York, could not be reached for comment.

Sarah Murray, who lives two blocks from the house, said that many such "absentee landlords" of houses in the area do not pay close attention to their student tenants' activities.

Murray, an assistant block-watch captain with the Charles Village Community Benefits District, said residents on her block had problems with a fraternity that moved there early last year. During rowdy parties, people fought in the street and urinated on lawns, she said.

She said the residents had a meeting with fraternity members and set guidelines for parties, including insisting that they appoint a designated host who would stay sober to curb rowdy behavior and clean up. Murray said the residents had no problems after that.

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