Alcohol death prompts change


by Sarah Squires

The Winona State University student found dead in an off-campus apartment December 14 died of acute alcohol poisoning, police said Friday.

Jenna Marie Foellmi, 20, began drinking at about 11 a.m. on December 13 after her last final at WSU, police said during a press conference Friday. She was with friends all day, traveling to various off-campus "bring your own beverage" parties. She went to sleep at an apartment on the 650 block of Johnson Street, where friends found her unconscious the next morning at about 9:30 a.m.

Winona County Coroner Dr. Thomas Retzinger did not release Foellmi's blood alcohol content but said she had a level not compatible with life. He said she likely either suffered from a respiratory or cardiac arrest as a result of the alcohol consumed.

Winona Police Chief Frank Pomeroy said that a number of Foellmi's friends had been interviewed but that because of the holiday school break there still students the police would like to talk to. He said it was unclear where the 20-year-old student got the alcohol, and that it was too soon to determine whether the investigation would lead to an arrest.

Foellmi was a 2006 graduate of Caledonia High School and a sophomore majoring in biochemistry and cell molecular biology. Police called her death a tragic reminder of what alcohol can do to a young and gifted student.

WSU President Judith Ramaley offered her condolences to Foellmi's family and friends, and said that she was personally distressed by her death. "Her death is a shocking reminder that many of our young people are vulnerable," during their transition into adulthood and the choices they are faced with, said Ramaley. She outlined some of the ways that WSU responds to student alcohol abuse, as well as things the university will do to try to further combat binge drinking.

"We share a responsibility to end what I think is an epidemic," she said. In addition to strengthening the university's partnership with the Winona Police Department, Ramaley said that she'd like to see increased enforcement of campus drinking policies, hoping to track a reduction in severity. She'd like to further involve families when information on student drinking can be shared, and help prepare students to be good friends who are confident that they know what to do to help someone who's had too much to drink or suffers from a drinking problem. Young drinkers don't just need a designated driver, she said, but also a designated friend and responder, to help make sure no one is in danger.

Pomeroy agreed that educating students about how to help a friend has brought results in other communities. He cited La Crosse as an example of a city that's promoted a buddy system for drinking as a response to alcohol-related deaths.

"Drinking at a high level is a personal choice," said Pomeroy. "However, she was with her friends the whole time. People need to help one another."


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