SantaCon Binge May Start Campus Drinking Debate

2 SUNY-O Students Hospitalized

SantaCon Binge May Start

Campus Drinking Debate


ONEONTA – SantaCon was a life-changing moment for one young man, a SUNY student, 21, found unconscious and bleeding on a sidewalk outside a Grove Street house on Saturday, Dec. 7.

“He admitted that he drank too much and that he had a problem with alcohol,” said Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner. “Waking up with a tube in his throat was a real wake-up moment for him, and he said he is going to seek help. He was very remorseful and very embarrassed.”

The student, who was not named, was rushed to Bassett Hospital and intubated after he was found unresponsive and with a .5 BAC following the annual SantaCon, an unsanctioned college bar-hopping event.

“.4 BAC is usually fatal,” said Brenner.

SUNY Oneonta campus police also dealt with a similar BAC on campus, and Oneonta Police later transported a female, 21, whose friends reported that she was unresponsive on a couch in a residence.

“When we arrived, she was half-conscious, but we transported her to the hospital under a part of the mental health law that allows us to take someone in who is incapacitated by alcohol.”

All three students were released from the hospital, and police declined to press charges.

But the transports come just weeks after the Oneonta Police shut down the Sip & Sail Tavern during a raid in which a record 226 fake IDs – found to be 90 percent of the bar’s clientele – were confiscated. The state Liquor Authority quickly revoked the bar’s liquor license, filing 53 violations, including 47 counts for selling to a minor, exceeding maximum occupancy, failure to supervise and employing unlicensed bouncers.

Now, Brenner hopes to reach out to students in hopes of preventing future incidents and changing the drinking culture at the colleges.

“People are going to do what they’re going to do,” he lamented. “But when you end up in the ICU on a ventilator, it starts to get worrisome.”

He has reached out to LEAF in hopes of creating some programming, and ramped up police patrols. “It would be horrible to have a tragic incident and look back and realize we could have done more,” he said.

According to Hal Legg, SUNY Oneonta spokesman, the college’s Code of Conduct states that “An individual’s use of alcohol on/off campus which results in a disruption to the campus community or a risk to personal safety will be considered a violation of this policy.”

The campus has the on-campus Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Committee, which seeks to lower and prevent alcohol and drug abuse by students, and offers drug and alcohol counseling through the Health and Wellness Center.

“SUNY Oneonta is proactive in educating students about the dangers of alcohol abuse, providing healthy alternatives to drinking, and offering assistance to students experiencing problems related to alcohol,” said Legg. “Certainly, the efforts of the Oneonta Police Department and other agencies within the City of Oneonta to prevent drinking among those who are underage, regardless of whether they are enrolled at our college, are worthwhile.”

Hartwick College did not return a request for comment.

This year, SantaCon fell at the same time as the annual Santa Parade downtown, but because it is an unsanctioned event, police struggled with how to discourage the students from over-consumption of alcohol.

“We can’t go to the bars and tell them they can’t run drink specials,” said Brenner. “If they want to say there is a special for anyone dressed up on a certain day, we can discourage them from doing so, but we can’t go any further than that.”

Additional patrols were ordered, and Brenner said that only a few tickets for open containers and noise violations were issued. They had no complaints at the parade itself, he reported.

“SantaCon didn’t disturb Main Street,” he said.

But beyond SantaCon, he warned, the winters are cold, and hypothermia is an ever-present threat. “People who have been drinking don’t feel the cold,” he said. “A few years ago, we found a young man passed out in a puddle in the Dietz Street parking lot, and when we got to him, his core temperature was way down.”

Brenner also said that he once had a call for an intoxicated young woman lost in the wooded area near Fox Hospital, who also had to be treated for hypothermia.

Brenner reminded students that “Good Samaritan” laws are in place to protect anyone who might call for help if they see someone in trouble. “We don’t want to discourage people from doing the right thing,” he said. “You don’t want anything bad to happen.”

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