Police probe death at UM

20-year-old student from N.Y. found on fraternity's porch

Cause is undetermined

September 06, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Prince George's County police are investigating the death of a 20-year-old University of Maryland student found lying unconscious on the front porch of his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house yesterday morning.

The student was identified as Alexander Eugene Klochkoff of Bellmore, N.Y. The cause of death had not been determined, authorities said.

But there were signs that the death may have been a crime rather than a case of alcohol poisoning, a growing problem on campuses.

In an afternoon news conference outside the fraternity house, the campus police chief, Kenneth Krouse, asked about concerns over public safety, said: "Any crime is of concern to us."

A university spokesman, George Cathcart, said that in a clear case of alcohol poisoning, campus police would not necessarily call in Prince George's County officers, as they did first thing yesterday.

"Anytime something like this happens where the cause of death is not immediately obvious, Prince George's police will be in to help us," he said.

"It is agonizing for all of us to have unanswered questions about a tragedy of this kind," the university's vice president for student affairs, Linda Clement, said last night, "but we do not want to make the situation worse by speculating."

Maj. Gary Corso of the Prince George's police said investigators were waiting for an autopsy report from the state medical examiner. He declined to say whether the student's body showed signs of foul play or if police had taken anyone into custody, saying only that officers had interviewed "quite a few students who were with the young man ... [to try] to retrace his steps last night."

"We are conducting a death investigation," said Corso, commander of the county police criminal investigations division. "We are looking into all possibilities."

Scott A. LaGanga, president of the Interfraternity Council, said: "We are cooperating fully with local and county police, in addition to university officials who are investigating the death."

Corso said a member of the fraternity called campus police about 8 a.m. to report the body on the porch. Emergency personnel found Klochkoff unresponsive and took him to Washington Adventist Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

By late morning, the SAE house, part of the stately procession of Georgian-style homes that make up Fraternity Row in the heart of campus and a few hundred feet from university police headquarters, was roped off with yellow tape and filled with detectives.

Outside Delta Tau Delta house next door, a dozen shirtless fraternity brothers got some sun and discussed the death. Word of the incident raced through the campus, now in the middle of "Rush Week," during which fraternities entertain prospective members, and the second week of classes.

"This is a terrible incident," said Angela Lagdameo, head of the student government.

"This is a very grave day indeed," said University President C.D. Mote. "This is possibly a parent's greatest nightmare and a university's greatest nightmare, the death of a student.

"It doesn't help to know that it doesn't happen very often. We offer our deepest sympathies for the family, friends and fellow fraternity members."

Klochkoff's mother, reached at home last night, was distraught and said she did not know the circumstances of her son's death. She declined to comment further.

According to The Diamondback campus newspaper, Klochkoff was a transfer student who had been at College Park for about a year.

He played football in his junior and senior years at Wellington C. Mepham High School in North Bellmore, where he was listed on the roster at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. In 1998, Klochkoff's senior year, he was named to the All-County football team in Nassau County.

Kevin McElroy, Klochkoff's coach at Mepham, said in a telephone interview that he was shocked by the death of his former star running back.

Klochkoff's high school life centered around football, the coach said. "Football was it."

Klochkoff graduated from high school in 1999 and wanted to continue playing football at Maryland. "That was his dream," McElroy said. "He wanted to be in a big-time program."

But he was not on the Maryland football team, and a high school teammate and friend, Scott Margulies, 20, said last night that despite being a star at Mepham, Klochkoff had no intention of playing in college.

"He didn't want to play anymore," Margulies said. "He wanted to study."

"He was getting his work together," said Phil M. Abbondondolo, 20, who played football with Klochkoff in high school.

Students gathered outside the fraternity house said the death was particularly unnerving because police and university officials have not called it a case of alcohol poisoning, which, some students said, would be less surprising than a crime of violence.

"It's appalling," said junior Brendan O'Brien. "If a kid gets drunk and dies, that's one thing, but if he gets beat up and left for dead, that's another thing."

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