First Sony Battery Laptop Fire Fatality, or Just Fraternity Fireworks Stupidity?

After a recent fire in a Nebraska Wesleyan University Fraternity house killed one student and hospitalized three others, investigators are trying to determine whether a laptop was responsible for the blaze.

Authorities first assumed the fire may have had something to do with fireworks, but then sent the laptop found in the room to the ATF lab for analysis. It's probably too soon to blame Sony for their batteries on this one, even though fires caused by said batteries have injured a few. We're siding with the "stupid college kids" theory for now.

Full story after the jump.

Published November 21, 2006

Laptop eyed in fatal fire at college

BY MATTHEW HANSEN AND PAUL HAMMEL
WORLD-HERALD BUREAU


A faulty laptop computer is being investigated as the possible cause of a deadly fraternity fire that killed one Nebraska Wesleyan University student and injured three others, authorities said Monday.

Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey said a laptop computer found in the room of Ryan Stewart, 19, of Ord, Neb., has been sent to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms laboratory for analysis.

Faulty batteries in laptop computers have been blamed for a string of recent fires, prompting a recall by several computer companies.

More than 6 million of the lithium-ion batteries made by Sony and sold worldwide have been recalled.

Lacey said it was too early to make a definitive judgment about the cause of the fatal fire.

"(Investigators) have got a long ways to go," he said. "They don't really know what happened, and I'm not sure they will."

Flames engulfed a room on the second story of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house about 4 a.m. Friday, killing Stewart, sending three other fraternity members to a hospital burn unit and prompting other fraternity members to jump from second-story windows to escape the blaze.

The tragedy prompted an outpouring of support from other students, professors, alumni and random Nebraskans.

It also sparked questions about the behavior of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity members in the hours before the fire, partly because fraternity leaders confirmed that the fire started not long after they concluded a night of "activation activities" in a weeklong initiation of new members.

Sarah Boatman, Wesleyan's vice president of student life, said she's heard rampant speculation about the fire's cause from students not affiliated with the fraternity.

"Clearly the first wave of energy must go to caring for all of our students," Boatman said. "As we're taking care of our community . . . the questions start to arise. How did it start?

"The community has a deep, deep desire to know."

Boatman, Lacey and a fraternity spokesman wouldn't respond to on-campus rumors that fraternity members shot off bottle rockets inside the fraternity house in the hours before the fire.

Tim Klipp, a junior and the fraternity's social chairman, said the fraternity's members have been instructed not to talk publicly about the hours before the fire, or any possible cause of the fire, until the investigation is complete.

"As of right now, we're wondering the same thing as the rest of the world, pretty much," he said about the fire's cause.

Maria Roy, who lives directly behind the fraternity house, said she didn't hear fireworks Thursday night. She did hear fraternity members partying late that night, she said.

The neighbor said she often sees young men drinking alcohol behind the fraternity house.

"They're college kids, and that's what they do," she said.

On Monday, members of Phi Kappa Tau donned brown fraternity T-shirts and affixed black ribbons to their chests as they attended some classes after a weekend spent talking to fire investigators and undergoing grief counseling.

Fraternity members were buoyed by the news that the three students injured in the fire had recovered enough to breathe without respirators, Klipp said.

Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln upgraded Travis Mann, 22, of Beatrice and Aaron McGuire, 20, of Sioux Falls, S.D., to fair condition Monday. David Spittler, 20, of Elkhorn, was upgraded to serious condition.

The fraternity's members, who haven't been back inside the house to retrieve their belongings, were also amazed by the outpouring of support from the university and city, Klipp said.

Students gave them old books and clothes. Wesleyan sororities cooked meals for them. Professors handed fraternity members money on campus Monday.

The biggest donation of all came from Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, which will allow the fraternity members to live on their vacant third floor until the fraternity can reopen its house, Klipp said.

"When you have people around here that love you this much, it's just nuts," Klipp said. "Honestly, we don't even know how to be thankful."

The grieving process will continue for those close to Stewart, said Pauletta Lehn, Wesleyan's campus minister.

The grief may be compounded because many of the students have never lost a close friend or family member, she said. It also may be worsened by lingering feelings of guilt.

"Guilt is certainly one (emotion)," Lehn said. "Why didn't I go back for Ryan? Why did I jump out of the window so soon?

"When you think life is going to go on forever, and then you have something like this happen, it strikes you right to the core."
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Laptop eyed in fatal fire at college [Omaha]

Laptop Investigated in Fraternity Fire [Omaha - Thanks Dave!]