Family: Alcohol, Energy drinks led to WSU student's death

WSU creating task force to address alcohol issues on campus

Published On: Oct 31 2012 11:49:40 AM PDT   Updated On: Oct 31 2012 06:14:36 PM PDT
Kenneth Hummel
PULLMAN, Wash. -

Family members of a Washington State University student who died last weekend said Wednesday that Kenny Hummel died from a lethal concoction of caffeinated energy drinks and alcohol. .

Hummel, 18, of Lynnwood, was found unresponsive Saturday morning in a dorm room at Stephenson Hall.

Police say they received a call around 2:30 a.m. Saturday from students in saying he was unconscious and they were performing CPR. He died later in the day at Pullman Regional Hospital.

"We got there, took over CPR until Pullman medics arrived," WSU Assistant Police Chief Steve Hansen said. "They treated [him], he was transported to Pullman hospital and he was pronounced dead at the hospital."

Earlier in the semester Hummel had received a citation for minor in possession and was drinking hard alcohol the night he died. The coroner's report indicated Hummel's blood alcohol level was .40, five times the legal limit for driving in Washington State.

At a press conference in Seattle Wednesday, members of the family said that an autopsy report indicated Hummel died from "respiratory failure due to acute alcoholic poisoning."

"The problem with these energy drinks that are highly caffeinated, is the person who drinks one and alcohol, too much alcohol, is that there body doesn't shut down, and they can drink alcohol past the point where the body can handle it. And, like Kenny, the person dies," Hummel's aunt, LeAnn Easton, said.

Family members say they talked with some of Hummel's friends who report he consumed had several 5 Hour Energy drinks. Campus police also confirmed that several 5 Hour Energy drinks were found in his room. Hummel's family said they believe this contributed to his death, allowing him to drink way more than he would've been able to consume.

"Alcohol is a natural depressant which makes somebody go to sleep if they drink too much," Hansen said. "The energy drink will keep them awake so they can consume more alcohol than they would have."

Hummel's family hopes that toxicology reports, which could be released in about six weeks, will show a link between the caffeine from the energy drinks and alcohol contributing to his death.

So far this semester, WSU students have been admitted to the hospital on four separate occasions for acute alcohol poisoning. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 2,000 college students die from alcohol-related causes each year.

"What we are finding is that the number of those incidents have not increased over the years but the level of severity or blood alcohol levels have increased," Meagan Guido with Pullman Regional Hospital said.

Washington State University President Dr. Elson Floyd, in the wake of Hummel's death, announced Wednesday he would launch a task force to address alcohol issues on campus.

“The information in the coroner’s report is sad and disturbing,” Floyd said. “It also is a dramatic incentive for us to re-double our already extensive efforts in student education about alcohol use and abuse. To that end, we have formed a special task force to focus new strategies and tactics on addressing a variety of student alcohol issues.

“Our work will dovetail with and complement the brave efforts of Kenny’s family to ensure his death becomes a springboard for education about the dangers of high-risk drinking,” Floyd added. “We continue to hold them in our thoughts as they share their private story publicly in order to help others.”

The task force will work to address on a wide range of issues, including educational programs focusing on responsible use of alcohol on campus, prevention programs and intervention approaches, care and treatment of alcohol over consumption, peer and mentor programs and health and treatment coordination between the university and Pullman Regional Hospital.

“We take these issues very seriously,” Melynda Huskey, WSU dean of students, said. “Since the beginning of this school year, we have had a number of discussions surrounding how we can better identify and help high-risk students.”