#students | #parents | freezing cold a possible factor

The death of a University of Vermont student comes on the heels of another college student’s death in Iowa. 

Connor Gage, a freshman at UVM, died “possibly due to exposure to sub-zero temperatures” on Saturday. Another student, 18-year-old Iowa student Gerald Belz, died Jan. 30 after exposure to freezing temperatures. 

Cold temperatures struck the Midwest late January. The Northeast, including Vermont, experienced some of the impact, though the brunt hit states like Illinois and Wisconsin. 

Iowa, where Belz died, experienced record-breaking temperatures during this time, according to The Weather Channel. 

These include:

  • Minus 30 degrees in Cedar Rapids, Jan. 31
  • Minus 20 degrees in Des Moines, Jan. 30
  • Wind chills reaching into the minus 60s in northeastern Iowa, Jan. 29

Cold temperatures and college students

Gage and Belz are not the first college students to be impacted by freezing temperatures. 

  • A 20-year-old Duke University student lost his life to hypothermia in Franklin, Massachusetts. Michael J. Doherty was found in a wooded area in May 2017, after not coming home from a party. 
  • A 19-year-old University of Minnesota student died of hypothermia in 2013. The parents of Jake Anderson sued first responders for negligence when he “was first found along the Mississippi River.” He also had “acute alcohol intoxication.” 
  • 20-year-old Sandra Lommen, a student at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, died of hypothermia in December 2014. It is believed she died after leaving a party, falling into a creek and “overcome by the cold as she continued to walk home.” 
  • A 19-year-old student, Alex P. Hendry, was a student at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York. He died in February 2016 due to hypothermia, as well as “acute alcohol intoxication.” 
  • A 24-year-old student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, is believed to have died of hypothermia in January 2011, according to investigators. Authorities said Nana Kwasi Baffour-Awuah wandered to a “wooded, snow-covered embankment” and had a blood alcohol level that was more than double the legal driving limit.  

What should Vermont college students take away from this incident?

Burlington police Deputy Chief Jon Murad’s advice was twofold: dress appropriately and look out for one another. He also cautioned that students should not let warmer weather, expected for the next few days, fool them. 

“When it is as cold as it has been, it can be very dangerous,” Murad said. “This is not something that is unique to this specific tragedy.” 

Alcohol in particular can trick people into thinking they’re warmer than they actually are, Murad said. He said he frequently sees situations at bar closing time where people are finding themselves in conditions that “compound their inability to recognize how cold they are or the reality of the weather situation.” 

Though alcohol might make you feel warm, according to the Mayo Clinic, physiologically speaking it can do the opposite. Your blood vessels will expand and can lead to faster loss of heat. Additionally, your “natural shivering response is diminished.” 

“(Alcohol) actually diverts temperature away from the core,” Murad said. 

Staying safe in freezing temperatures

The National Weather Service offered tips on how to identify and protect yourself from circumstances like hypothermia and frostbite. 

Identifying hypothermia and frostbite: 

  • Loss of feeling in impacted area of your body
  • White/pale appearance of affected area
  • Exposed areas where you might have limited blood circulation will likely be impacted first (nose, ears, fingers)
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation

Protecting yourself from cold temperatures:

  • If you suspect part of your body is affected by frostbite, hold it against warmer skin
  • Cover as much of your body as possible (mittens/gloves, hat)
  • Stay as dry as possible
  • Wear boots that are insulated and waterproof 
  • Wear layers to help your body insulate
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible to potential hypothermia victims. If that is not feasible, make sure the victim is “warmed slowly with warm liquids along with dry clothing and blankets.”

Murad gave tips for the public to stay safe in cold temperatures. 

“We strongly encourage people, and local students especially, to dress appropriately for the weather, to travel with friends or groups of friends, and to let others know where you are, where you’re going, and when you hope to get there.” 

University of Vermont community members looking for resources in dealing with Gage’s death: 

For students: UVM’s Counseling and Psychiatry Services: (802) 656-3340 

For staff and faculty: Invest EAP at (802) 864-EAPØ (3270) or toll free at 1-866-660-9533 

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89. 


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