UPDATED: UI student's fatal balcony fall deemed accidental

UPDATED: UI student's fatal balcony fall deemed accidental

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign police believe a University of Illinois student’s death Friday after a fall from his apartment balcony was a tragic accident.

The passing of Jonathan Morales, 23, brings to three the number of deaths in the last 11 years associated with the annual spring bacchanal on campus known as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., police were sent to 51 E. John St., C, where they found Mr. Morales unresponsive on the concrete surface of the interior courtyard.

He was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, where he died at 11:50 p.m.

An autopsy was done Saturday morning.

Champaign Detective Sgt. Dennis Baltzell said Mr. Morales was in his own apartment on the fourth floor with four other people.

“By all accounts, this would appear to be accidental. There wasn’t a big party. It’s just a few friends gathered that had planned on going out later,” Baltzell said.

Included in the group was Mr. Morales’ brother, he confirmed.

Baltzell said he was not certain if any of the others were near Mr. Morales or saw what happened as another detective assisted with interviews that he had not had a chance to review Saturday.

“People were coming and going. One of the kids said it was a little warm in the apartment and they had the door open. There were neighbors next door who said they went out to smoke,” he said.

Baltzell estimated the balcony to be 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep.

The detective said police learned that Mr. Morales had been drinking earlier in the day as part of the Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day activities.

“He and his roommate were out earlier, came home, took naps. Friends came from up north and they started drinking again and socializing. I can’t say what condition he was in,” said Baltzell, who said the group had been together for about an hour prior to the fall.

“As long as there are balconies, students and alcohol, we are going to have falls,” said the veteran police officer. “It all comes down to good judgment and making sound decisions.”

Mr. Morales was a junior from Franklin Park majoring in communication.

Instructor Kate Ditewig-Morris called him a “bright spot” among her students.

“When you teach at 9 a.m. three times a week, it’s tough to have students who are consistently present, awake and ready to jump in. Jon Morales was one of those students. He was a bright spot in my small Business Communication class — always engaged, smiling and respectful to me and the other students in class,” she said.

“Slightly older than the others, Jon was establishing himself as a solid anchor among the others. We were just gaining momentum, just getting things accomplished, when it was all cut short. On behalf of the other students in class, I offer my deepest sympathies to Jon’s family. I shall miss him very, very much,” she said.

UI Chancellor Robert Jones echoed her sentiments.

“We are saddened over the death of a young man who had promise, potential and his whole life ahead of him. On behalf of the university, I offer sincere condolences to his family and friends. Going forward, we must find a way to work together as a community to end this event and avoid more senseless tragedy,” Jones said in a statement.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler observed that until Mr. Morales’ fall, the day had been manageable.

There was a heavy police presence on campus, with an emphasis on safety.

“Until this happened, people were saying it seemed really quiet and more subdued this year,” Kaler said.

The university tries to counteract the event, which it does not condone and considers an embarrassment, with education.

“We, of course, do alcohol responsibility training with all students when they start, we send a letter to parents a few weeks ahead of Unofficial asking them to talk with their children. Police and student volunteers go around to areas where students live and talk to students about making good choices,” Kaler said.

The UI Police Department also promotes safe behavior through social media and enlists the cooperation of apartment owners. Part of the education effort specifies balconies, Kaler said.

“Please don’t go out on balconies. It’s really dangerous. We’ve lost a human being for no good reason,” she said.

Preliminary numbers of Friday’s police activity revealed that 112 notices to appear in court were issued to people for such crimes as carrying alcohol in public, battery and minors in possession of alcohol. That figure was down from about 152 last year.

There were also about 20 people taken to hospitals for intoxication, she said.

On Saturday morning, a representative of the UI dean of students’ office was handing out contact cards to residents of Mr. Morales’ apartment building in case any of them needed UI resources to deal with the tragedy.

 

The heartbreaking history
“We must find a way to work together as a community to end this event,” Chancellor Robert Jones said Saturday, the day after a UI student died during the “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” weekend. Since the event began in 1995, three students have died and two have been seriously injured:

FATALITIES
2017

Jonathan Morales, 23, dies in a fall from his fourth-floor apartment balcony at 51 E. John St., C. He had been drinking, authorities said Saturday.

2011
Urbana’s Bradley Bunte, 21, is hit by two motorists as he crosses University Avenue near McCullough Street. Mr. Bunte, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.27 percent, dies from his injuries three days later.

2006
Caroline Yoon, 22, dies from head injuries after falling from the back of a motorcycle that crashes near Healey and Wright streets. Although the driver had been drinking, a DUI charge is thrown out because prosecutors couldn’t prove he was impaired at the time of the crash.

SERIOUS INJURIES
2012

A 21-year-old man who admitted he was drinking falls from a balcony at 501 E. Healey St. and breaks his pelvis and bones in his face.

2009
A 21-year-old man falls three stories as he apparently tries to climb from a third-floor balcony to the fourth floor.