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Police Report Details Events Leading Up To UVM Student's Death In February

A brick building on a green.
Liam Elder-Connors
VPR File
In early February, UVM first-year Connor Gage was found dead in Burlington. He attended two frat parties on the night of his death and died of hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication. UVM is still investigating the two frats he visited.

In early February, a first-year student at the University of Vermont died after passing out in a snowbank. Connor Gage attended two frat parties the night of his death, police said. He died of hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication, police said.

UVM quickly suspended all fraternity activity and started an investigation.

Burlington police examined the case and decided not to charge the frats. Recently released police documents reveal more about the night of Gage's death, and tell a tragic story of a young man looking to make friends and fit in.

Connor Gage on Mount Mansfield in September 2018.
Credit Ronnie Gage, courtesy
Connor Gage, a first-year student at UVM, died in early February. UVM is still investigating the incident.

Gage was trying to walk back campus the night he died. He left a party with a group, but split off to retrieve his bag from a house he’d been at earlier, police said.

For his mother, Dorothy Connor, this is one of the hardest facts to deal with —  no one accompanied her son.

“Connor shouldn’t have been alone,” Dorothy said in a recent interview. “Whether you met somebody for the first time that night or you've only been friends a couple of weeks and you go to a party together ... I mean somebody must've seen or known something.”

On the night of February 1, Gage decided to go out to a party, according to the documents, something he rarely did. Most of the time, the 19-year old neuroscience major stayed in his room. But according to the police report, Gage told a family friend he was lonely and looking to meet people.

“He was really looking to some folks that he had just met from the fraternity to really help make some friends on campus,” said Burlington Police Detective Thomas Chenette. “It’s very, very tragic."

Gage’s first stop was a party put on by Delta Tau Delta. Witnesses told Chenette it was a low-key event.

“There were some folks drinking, but it wasn’t like kegs,” Chenette said. “It wasn’t forced drinking by any means and that he had brought his own alcohol with him.”

Gage had a bottle of liquor —maple moonshine, police said. His stepfather gave him the bottle and according to police, he was supposed to give it to a family friend who lived in South Burlington. Instead, Gage kept it.

There’s no way to know how much Gage drank that night, but when police found the bottle, it was empty. According to the autopsy report, Gage had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.2 when he died.

After the first party, police said, Gage and a few people went to another one hosted by Alpha Epsilon Pi, a frat that’s no longer recognized by UVM.In 2014, AE Pi was suspended for violating campus policies around alcohol and hazing.

Members of AE Pi told police they didn’t serve booze at the party. No one remembered seeing Gage, according to police.

When the party shut down around 12:45 a.m., the group of people Gage was with left, police said.

“The rest of the frat brothers took an Uber back to campus,” Chenette said. “They didn’t know him that well, so each of them just assumed he was going back with someone else.”

Gage started walking, headed roughly towards back to the first frat, but not on the most direct path, police said. He was going to get his backpack.

There’s a stretch of bars at near the beginning of the route Gage walked. On a Friday night, even a cold night in February, people huddle outside, smoking and talking. But the street quickly gets quiet - the few restaurants and business along the way aren’t open late and the side streets lead to residential neighborhoods.

Eventually, Gage realized he needed to cut across two streets and double back. To do that, he tried walking across a large parking lot.

“[It] just was so cold and then he encountered that fence,” said Chenette.

Gage tried climbing over the fence, but fell. He followed the length of the fence searching for a gap. When he didn’t find a way through the fence, Gage tried one last time to climb over. Then, the police report says, he took a few steps back and laid down in the snow.

The temperatures fell below zero that night, and Gage was not dressed for the weather.

Burlington police ruled Gage’s death an accident and closed the case.

Vice-Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens says UVM's investigation is broader than what police examined. She says their looking to see if any campus rules were broken by the fraternities.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
Vice-Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens says UVM's investigation is broader than what police examined. She says their looking to see if any campus rules were broken by the fraternities.

But both frats are still suspended and UVM is investigating whether any campus rules were broken. Vice-Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens said the university’s investigation is broader than what police examined.

“Were people encouraged to, even though it may not be forced to, but were they encouraged to drink?” Stevens said. “What was the scene at both these of these organizations’ houses, what was happening, who was there? So we’ll want to know a lot about what happened.”

The national headquarters for both frats, Delta Tau Delta and Alpha Epsilon Pi, provided VPR with written statements saying they’re cooperating with the investigations.

Gage’s mom, Dorothy, said that so many things went wrong that night, she can’t blame anyone.

“There are moments that, you know, I'm angry with Connor, I'm angry with God, I'm angry with the kids at the fraternity, I'm angry with the school,” she said. “It's not that you don't have those moments, but I can't let those moments rule my life.”

Recently Dorothy got  a box from the Burlington police. Inside were Gage’s clothes from the night he died.

“When the FedEx man handed me the box the wind kind of blew up and blew through the box and kinda into my face and I could smell him," Dorothy said.

The last time that happened, she said, she was cleaning out her son’s dorm room.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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