Why are students at Texas State University dying to have a good time (while officials ignore the elephant in the room)

// November 4th, 2016 // Politics and legal

Partiers at Cool River Ranch Float Fest

Texas State University – “party central” for Texas students

Although it is located midway between popular tourist-destinations Austin and San Antonio, Texas State University students know they don’t have to drive far for a good time. In fact, college-age partiers from throughout the state are drawn to the San Marcos area for its popular float rides, water parks, riverside party venues, and enormous beer-bashes.

Conveniently situated off I-35, splitting the authority of Hays County and Guadalupe County, the campus sits near San Marcos River and Guadalupe River – both popular party destinations for students of an age when rational adult-like decision-making is just beginning to take root. Being a “party school” may be a good draw for the local economy – but it also presents its own set of problems for the community.

Floating on the Guadalupe River near San MarcosDrugs and drink bring deadly repercussions

It’s a familiar dilemma at many universities – parties, drugs, and deadly binge-drinking. Nearly 100,000 students find themselves victims of alcohol-influenced sexual assaults each year. More than 1,800 students die each year of alcohol-related causes. Texas State University can attest to the problem as local newspapers report residents are in an uproar over an out-of-control culture that authorities seem unable or unwilling to control.

In May 2011, three students at a fraternity party drank themselves to oblivion and jumped from a window at the frat house. 19-year-old Christopher Williams suffered head injuries. 19-year-old Kristin McCreery suffered back injuries. 20-year-old Erin Ann Hicks suffered head injuries, was placed in critical care, and died. In a simliar incident, just three months later, Senior John Patrick Fox fell to his death during an ill-fated climb atop Spiral Tower.

By 2012, the university topped 30,000 students and with growth, drug and alcohol-related deaths surged. In October 2013, two students were shot and killed. Less than a year later, a 20-year-old student drowned on San Marcos River after a day of partying and drinking. That same year, 21-year-old Jessica Hunter died after taking Molly at an organized event. In 2015, during a long string of drug-related robberies on campus, 20-year-old Justin Gage was shot and killed in his student apartment. And when it appeared things could get no worse, well, they did.

2016 – questions surround rancorous crime, rape, and tragedy at Texas State University

By 2016, the campus’s legendary status as a party university spread far and wide. A student at one bash noted how quickly the event (a party at which an 18-year-old female student was shot) exploded in size.

“In an hour, the room was overfilled. It was overflowing into the hallway… into the outside area.”

21-year-old Texas State University student accident kills two (2016)While the area stood proud as the mecca for raucous parties, tragedies continued to pile up. In August 2016, a 21-year-old Texas State student was returning home from floating the river (where she admits to consuming alcohol) when she veered across the highway colliding into a couple’s car killing a man and forcing the stillbirth of the passenger’s unborn child.  Two months later, on October 30, 2016, despite ramped up police patrols (due to a series of sexual assaults), 19-year-old Luis Alvarez was killed after being struck by a vehicle in front of a Texas State University frat house where a fraternity-sponsored event was in full swing. That same weekend, 20-year-old Jordin Taylor was found dead after being drug by a bus shuttling students to and from a large fraternity party (reportedly hosted by Pi Kappa Alpha) at the legendary Cool River Ranch entertainment venue.

In addition to accidental deaths, instances of sexual assault on campus mushroomed during 2016 too. In September 2016, police launched an investigation into a sexual assault in Bexar Hall. In October, another student was sexually assaulted in Bobcat Village Apartments and yet another in the San Gabriel Hall dormitory. Ten months into the year, according to news reports, Texas State University police were already investigating more than a half-dozen sexual assault cases on campus. Locals couldn’t help but notice that the number of sexual assaults were twice the number seen at the much larger University of Texas campus just 30 minutes away.

Is Law Enforcement failing to uphold the law?

The legal authority over the area surrounding Texas State University is split between Hays County and Guadalupe County. Although Texas State University is a mid-sized college by Texas standards, with over 30,000 students, it represents a significant amount of revenue for the local economy. As an example, a recent event drew an estimated 10,000 drunken (but paying) revelers.

Would Hays or Guadalupe counties turn a blind eye to underage drinking to avoid lost revenue? This of course, would imply corruption. Surely Hays and Guadalupe counties lie far enough north of Texas’ notoriously corrupt southern counties to be isolated from the temptation to take advantage of their voter-annointed powers.

Hays County and its history of corruption

Dashcam video arrest of Hays County David Glickler for DWISuspicion of government corruption in Hays County dates back several decades. In the county’s earliest days, a vicious legal battle erupted over the purposeful overpayment of county commissioners. Earlier this decade, the county witnessed two officers indicated for “official oppression”. More recently, in 2015, San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero was condemned by the local media for potential conflict of interest for serving as a consultant to a firm belonging to former Hays County Judge Jim Powers.

If corruption is not to blame for the county’s lack of underage drinking enforcement, maybe a laissez-faire attitude towards drugs and drinking in general is to blame. According to local reports, last year, Hays County Judge David Glickler was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Dashcam video shows Glickler refusing the standard sobriety test warning the officer, “I am a judge in this county”. Afterward, the judge issued a press release claiming he was not intoxicated but refused the test because he holds himself “to a higher standard”. He supported his comical defense by claiming he informed the officer he was a judge to “assist the deputy” and ensure he followed “proper procedures” during the arrest. Adding insult to injury, after the arrest, it was reported that Glicker had a prior drunk driving arrest that had been graciously expunged from his record. In the end, Judge Glicker spent only 3 days behind bars and was ordered to complete a miserly two hours of “education”. He still presides as judge in Hays County today.

Guadalupe County and its history of corruption

Arrest photo of Guadalupe County Judge Michael Thomas Wiggins on drug possession chargesHays County doesn’t shoulder all of the blame. Much of the underage drinking problem occurs in Guadalupe County, a few minutes east of the campus, on the other side of Interstate 35. Like Hays County, Guadalupe County’s reputation is less than squeaky-clean.

In 2007, local news reported an area DARE officer was arrested by state investigators on child pornography charges. That same year, Police Chief Luis Collazo was placed on administrative leave after a long list of accusations that he “used his position to secure special treatment” for himself and others.  Collazo “voluntarily” resigned under a lucrative deal that provided him severance pay, insurance benefits, and removal of all references to the accusations from his personnel file.

Two years later, reports surfaced indicating two officers in the area were investigated by Texas Rangers for “improper relationships with a minor”.  In 2012, 58-year-old Guadalupe County Judge Michael Thomas Wiggins was arrested (in another city) and jailed on a charge of possession of marijuana. That same year, an officer was arrested in Guadalupe County for DWI – while driving in his patrol car!

WTF is going on in south-central Texas?

When those accused of corruption are judged by their own peers, it becomes nearly impossible to assess innocence or guilt. However, it should be obvious to all that their inability to control the crises at Texas State University makes officials largely complicit in the problem.

Do Riverside party venues cater to college-age crowd while turning a blind-eye to underage drinking problem?

Entrance to Cool River Ranch on San Marcos RiverIn October 2016, 20-year-old Jordin Taylor was drug to death under a shuttle bus at a fraternity party held at Cool River Ranch. Texas State official Matt Flores says the off-campus event was registered through the university.  The university denied responsibility, then according to reports, quickly advised students at Texas State’s Greek Council to avoid speaking to the media on the matter. Even Guadalupe County Sheriff Arnold Zwicke jumped in to defend the venue. Despite Taylor’s body being found only a few hundred feet from the ranch (and under a bus used to transport students to and from the party), he stupidly told reporters “it was too soon to say if Taylor’s death had anything to do with the party.”  Witnesses attest to the prescence of drugs and alocohol at the party. Locals posted in news forums saying they knew it was only a matter of time before someone died at Cool River Ranch.

To the chagrin of nearby residents, the for-rent facility continues to cater to the college-age crowd with events such as Float Fest which is expected to bring in more than 10,000 partiers this year. Per County Judge Kutscher, at last year’s event there were “a tremendous number of emergency medical service calls” during the festival. Float Fest organizer Marcus Federman countered the claim, pointing out that there were only six ambulance reports made during the event. Despite protests from area citizens, Federman vows the event will go on again this year.

Can Texas State University’s “party school” culture be fixed?

Just as there is more than one side to a story, there are a combination of factors contributing to Texas State University’s dangerous culture. Of course, this means there are a smorgasbord of potential remedies too.

The university solution

Advertisement for party at Texas State University shows drunken good timeMany universities choose to look the other way until someone dies. Then they act but their actions are usually short-lived and unlikely to be meaningful. Other universities believe it is sufficient to merely educate students on the dangers of drinking. Meanwhile, college-age students continue to drink, often striving to become “blackout drunk”, and dying on campuses across the country.

The changes required to protect college students from underage drinking begin with the university itself. They must first recognize the idiocy of the stance that college-age students are young adults who can make their own good choices.

Secondly, even though Greek houses (fraternities and sororities) are privately owned, universities must consistently enforce alcohol policies and they must do so even under threat of losing funding from alumni who participated in those same traditions.  At some universities, a single violation of alcohol policy is enough to remove the Greek house’s sanction.

Finally, universities must work with law enforcement and area businesses, including liquor stores and local bars, to ensure student IDs are thoroughly validated. And of course, under no circumstances should local bars provide discounts for college-aged fraternity members (yes, many bars located close to colleges offer discounts for students).

The law enforcement solution

To solve the college-age drinking problem, local law enforcement must be on board even it means driving students away from their counties and the loss of revenue as a result. Studies show that fines do not work. Law enforcement should notify parents when underage drinkers are caught drinking. They should police local bars and liquor stores and punish those who casually turn a blind eye on fake IDs students commonly use to purchase alcohol. And if all else fails, law enforcement should force the offender through an alcohol treatment program or the criminal justice system.

The local citizen solution

Crash on I-35 in San Marcos, Texas

Finally, local residents, including students wise enough to recognize there is a problem at their school, must fight for the safety of their community and its members.

One resident who lives along the San Marcos River told reporters,

“The river is the property of falling down drunks and underage drinkers. Local citizens must make a stand to protect their community and its most valuable asset.”

San Marcos residents, who are tired of the area’s popularity as a tubing paradise with college-age partiers, have done just that with a proposal to make a 60-mile stretch along the rivers a state park in order to control the consumption of alcohol within its boundaries. Texas Rivers Protection Association President Tom Goynes explained:

“It’s basically a frat party every day. And there are no police. They know if they are on the river they are safe. Underage kids can drink and there are no police to control the party. So, by making the river a state park, you could prohibit alcohol and it’s about the only way you can in Texas.”

Hats off to the citizens of San Marcos for their noble efforts – but good luck fighting the powers that be.

Additional information

Hays County’s biggest detractor is killed

Possibly nobody knows more about corruption within Hays County than Charles O’Dell, PhD, Charles co-founded HaysCAN, a community based government watchdog organization whose stated intent was to “help Hays County residents understand the actions taken by their elected officials.” Hays penned many hard-hitting columns exposing political malpractice and potential criminal activities inside Hays County. Unfortunately, his notorious exposes ended abruptly. Charles O’Dell died a few years ago after being struck by a car in San Marcos.

Drunken revelers floating on San Marcos River

Sources: KXAN, My Stateman, San Marcos Mercury, The University Star, Huffington Post, My San Antonio, ABC 13, KSAT, Burleson Star, Dallas News, Hays County Roundup, Big Jolly Politics, San Marcos Mercury, Hays Country, Guadalupe County, Texas Towing Compliance, Texas Observer,Texas District and County Attorneys, Breit Bart, Facebook, Texas Monthly, Topix, College Wall of Shame




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