Campustown safe overall, but police remind it's not good to wander alone, intoxicated or distracted
CHAMPAIGN — Bill Stockdale of Alsip remembers the sick feeling he had when he saw his son's injured face a couple of months ago.
On June 15, his 23-year-old son came to Champaign to help a friend celebrate finishing his education at the University of Illinois.
An Illinois State University graduate, William Stockdale III got a different kind of education in the process.
After a long night of partying that included shots of hard liquor and plenty of beer, Stockdale III decided to leave a campus bar and head for a friend's apartment — alone.
"My son has that personality. He becomes the lone wolf. His friends were not ready to leave and he decided to leave on his own," said the 52-year-old father of three.
Somewhere between the bar and the apartment, Stockdale III got mugged by at least two men. Because of his level of intoxication, he doesn't remember much. He just knows he got punched in the face and ended up with a broken nose, a broken facial bone, and an eye that was swollen shut and red for almost a month. His father said he's expected to make a complete recovery.
Bill Stockdale said his son is embarrassed about what happened and just wants to put it behind him.
The father, on the other hand, would like young people in a campus setting to know the dangers of excessive drinking.
"Most young adults have been told time and time again that if you're going to drink, make sure it's in moderation and always remember to stay with your group of friends. My son didn't follow those important two rules in Champaign County and he's lucky it didn't cost him his life," said the elder Stockdale.
'Know your limits'
Stockdale isn't alone in wanting to shout that message from the rooftops. So do local police, prosecutors and even an entire office at the University of Illinois. It's a message that gets repeated often, especially at the beginning of a new school year.
UI Assistant Police Chief Skip Frost said officers from his department will talk to whatever group will listen.
"We always have officers available for freshmen orientation. We find we're talking to the parents, not to the students, because students at that age don't feel like they need to have police intervention or education in any way, shape or form. We try to combat that daily by being an open resource to our students," he said.
That comes in the form of a website with safety tips and places to turn for help: http://www.dps.illinois.edu/resources.html.
And for those young people willing to listen, Frost has the following message:
"Know your limits, your intake of alcohol. We're not the no-fun police. But you can do so much better for yourself by being able to defend yourself, recognize a threat when you see it, even when stone-cold sober," Frost said.
"Distractions with electronics are becoming a huge issue. They are plugged in with ear buds, texting, have their heads down. Whether you are a pedestrian, a bicyclist or a driver, the best thing you can do for yourself is pay attention to your surroundings," Frost said.
Assistant Champaign County State's Attorney Troy Lozar echoes all of that.
Lozar was the prosecutor assigned the unenviable task of trying to get justice on behalf of the younger Stockdale, who was unable to help much with the prosecution of the two men arrested for hurting him.
Dias Carter, 24, and Magdiel Rosario, 19, both of Champaign, recently pleaded guilty to aggravated battery to Stockdale and were sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a total of $1,100 in restitution for Stockdale's out-of-pocket expenses.
"The victim doesn't really remember. The defendants' claim was that they saw the victim arguing with Rosario's sister and were trying to defend her. Since he doesn't remember, we're stuck with their story," said Lozar, who said he didn't necessarily believe all the two arrested men told police.
Carter had a prior conviction for misdemeanor battery stemming from an attack on a man in Scott Park in Champaign in September 2010. He was still on probation for that at the time of his June arrest. Rosario had no prior adult convictions but has a juvenile record, Lozar said.
Lozar said he feels for victims who get so drunk that they don't know what they're doing.
"The number of these incidents I see are probably a small representation of what occurs. The ones I see are the ones where somebody is seriously injured. But I see a handful every year," he said.
Lozar recounted a particularly violent 2008 case in which a then-41-year-old man living in a homeless shelter came upon a very intoxicated 20-year-old man on Green Street in Campustown. Police saw the pair and kept an eye on them for a while but lost sight of them briefly. The older man was sexually assaulting the younger man on a patio behind an apartment on South Third Street when police interrupted the act. The victim was so intoxicated he was unaware of what had happened to him. The attacker was convicted, mostly on the testimony of the police officer who found them, and is serving a prison sentence.
"I work with the tools I'm given," Lozar said.
Drinking to excess just increases the risks that you're "going to do something stupid," said the veteran prosecutor.
"A lot of the kids who get themselves in trouble for doing dumb things like getting drunk and hitting others are good people and they wouldn't be doing that unless they were drinking. It leaves us in a position of cleaning up and trying to come up with a just resolution of resolving a felony that can have a grave effect on their future. We want to minimize the effects on their future, but frequently they have hurt somebody," he said.
Lozar recalled another case in which a young man being treated at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana for alcohol intoxication got off his gurney, turned on the water taps and went back to sleep, damaging an entire hospital ward by flooding it.
"Really, was the extra Jagermeister worth that? I just remember looking at that and shaking my head, thinking if he had just decided to stay home and watch TV, or play a video game. If you act with moderation, you just save yourself a lot of problems," he said.
Most-abused drug: booze
That is exactly the message that the UI Alcohol and Other Drug Office wants to convey.
Mary Russell, the coordinator, said the student-fee-funded office provides counseling and services to students who suffer negative consequences from alcohol or other drugs. It's located in the McKinley Health Center but is part of the UI's Counseling Center.
This is a busy time of year for alcohol-drug office staff as they do a mandatory orientation for incoming freshmen and transfer students called Alcohol Culture Explored Interactive Theater or ACEIT.
Now in its eighth year, ACEIT involves students seeing theater vignettes that portray what a student is likely to encounter in the campus drinking culture. After watching the vignettes, the students discuss in small groups what they've seen. The orientation takes about two hours and must be completed within the first few weeks of the semester, Russell said.
"They cover things like safety and the potential for sex assault or non-consensual sex and how to reach out for help," Russell said.
Russell said that more than 7,000 students participated in ACEIT last year and that it has been well-received.
"This university has a number of policies and practices in place to support student safety," Russell said.
The rest of the year, her staff is available to students who think they might have or know they do have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol, she said, is still the No. 1 abused drug on campus.
Any student who has to go to the hospital as a result of excessive drinking is mandated to get an assessment from the alcohol-drug office.
"Most students who come to talk to us don't end up getting taken to the hospital again. It's really nice to know a safety policy is in place to make sure they get the help they need," she said.
Stockdale said he went to orientation sessions with his children at three different colleges but doesn't recall much being said about the risky behaviors that accompany excessive drinking.
"I do remember at ISU there was a part of the orientation where the police chief talked about safety and the importance of sticking with a friend," he said.
"Maybe it sounds chauvinistic, but I always preached to my girls about the importance of making sure you're with a friend. I never thought about (saying) 'Be careful if you overdrink.' It never hit me about being mugged," he said.
He said what happened to his son has definitely changed his son's habits.
"It was a good lesson learned and a lesson he will never forget and definitely be careful," Stockdale said.
Stockdale said he's forgiven the men who beat up his son, reckoning that perhaps they haven't had the same opportunities in life that his children have had.
Still, he wants to remind others to protect themselves from criminals who "continue to play this despicable game for sport."
Reported incidents in Champaign police beat 21, which includes the heart of the University of Illinois campus
Crime2009201020112012*Assault 2782Aggravated assault 71167Battery 42484618Aggravated battery 10012811462Mob action 71553Total 15820917992
* from Jan. 1 to Aug. 27, 2012
Source: Champaign Police Department