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Clarkson, SUNY Potsdam swimmers face underage drinking charges


POTSDAM — It was a night of parties that won’t soon be forgotten, for all the wrong reasons.

Eight college students — including six members of Clarkson University’s swim team and one member of SUNY Potsdam’s swimming and diving team — are facing criminal charges after two alcohol-fueled gatherings sent four underage drinkers to the hospital with acute intoxication on Nov. 18, village police said Wednesday.

“I feel this incident will serve as a wake-up call, not only for our campus communities, but for the community as a whole,” Potsdam Police Lt. Mark R. Murray said.

Seven Clarkson students and one Potsdam student were arrested between Sunday and Wednesday following weeks of investigation into a night of revelry that began with an invitation-only party at a Bay Street residence, to which guests paid $5 each for admission, Lt. Murray said.

Inside the home, informally known as the Clarkson Swim House, between 30 and 40 partygoers were treated to a variety of alcoholic beverages including beer, liquor and vodka shots served from an ice slide, Lt. Murray said.

After that party broke up, attendees moved on to a second event, allegedly hosted at the Market Street residence of SUNY Potsdam student Richard Zimmerman.

Before the night was over, four underage drinkers — three were 17 and one was 19 — were taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, while a fifth was hospitalized in an unrelated case after admitting consuming alcohol on his own. All five were treated and released, Lt. Murray said, and none faces charges.

Dormitory staff at SUNY Potsdam informed university police after three of their female students were hospitalized, which was the start of the investigation that reached village police, Lt. Murray said.

Police have ruled out hazing rituals and illegal drug use in connection with the parties, he added.

“I have no indication that it was anything more than a party to cut loose,” Lt. Murray said.

Arrested were:

n Adam G. Gaido, 21, Fulton, a Clarkson student.

n Paul L. Kreppel, 20, Clarence, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Sean W. Parnett, 22, Clifton Park, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Christopher R. Plummer, 20, Spencerport, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Katrina E. Smith, 20, Ballston Spa, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Paul N. Telesca, 22, Liverpool, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Andrew J. Zielinski, 20, Hilton, a Clarkson student and swimmer.

n Richard Zimmerman, 20, Fishers, a SUNY Potsdam student and swimmer.

The seven Clarkson students were charged as co-defendants after investigation showed they allegedly worked in concert to host the Bay Street party. All seven were charged with 10 counts of first-degree unlawfully dealing with a minor, a misdemeanor, and a single count of prohibited sale of alcohol. Mr. Zimmerman was charged with 11 counts of first-degree unlawfully dealing with a minor, a misdemeanor, and a single count of prohibited sale of alcohol.

All eight suspects cooperated with the investigation, Lt. Murray said, and are to appear in Potsdam Village Court on Jan. 16.

“This case has been referred to the college’s director of student conduct and community standards,” SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs said in response to an inquiry about Mr. Zimmerman. “Charges of this nature have, in the past, typically led to sanctions that result in separation from the institution, either through suspension or expulsion.”

Clarkson University spokesman Michael P. Griffin said he couldn’t comment on disciplinary actions relating to specific students, but that “in situations that involve law enforcement, we conduct a dean’s inquiry which can lead up to warnings, sanctions or expulsion.”

“I hope that this brings heightened awareness of the severe consequences of what (some) perceive as an innocent event or social party,” Lt. Murray said, “or what people tend to brush off as ‘kids being kids.’”

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