Premature congratulations

Possible fatal overdoses contradict police reports of calm holiday weekend

Last Sunday (April 2), the Chico Police Department issued a press release touting the relative calm of this year’s César Chávez Day weekend, a notoriously raucous holiday for local college students over the past decade.

The dispatch includes a rundown of police and medical contacts between noon Thursday (March 30) and 3 a.m. Sunday (April 2)—including 27 arrests and 16 instances of alcohol overdose—and credits a decrease in service calls from past years to “the collaboration with [Chico State] and the Butte Community College District in providing event education and self-responsibility of our student populations within the south campus and downtown areas of Chico.”

Most local media outlets ran with the CPD’s mostly sunny, largely self-congratulatory account verbatim, echoing the department’s reports of successful proactive efforts that ensured a tragedy-free weekend.

Of course, that wasn’t the whole story.

By mid-week, rumors of the deaths of two young people—presumably related to excessive intoxication—were confirmed by CN&R. Angela Scatena, 24, died early Friday morning (March 31) at a residence on the 900 block of Ivy Street, and Owen Euser, 23, died Tuesday (April 4) at Enloe Medical Center.

What we cannot understand is why the police department didn’t immediately inform the public about Scatena’s death. After all, officers responded to the call and were at the scene when she was pronounced dead. Toxicology reports are pending, but Chico police confirmed this week that Scatena had been drinking the night before she was found unresponsive. The Butte County Coroner’s Office tells CN&R that alcohol overdose is the suspected cause of death.

Knowing this, it’s baffling that the agency went on to issue an “attaboy” press release about the holiday weekend.

That’s a big omission for an agency that purports to be dedicated to transparency and taking proactive measures to curb binge drinking. The death of a young person is tragic no matter the circumstances, but in this case, reporting the fact a young woman had died in the south campus area on the morning of the actual holiday might have served as a warning for others in our community.

That includes Euser, a visiting alumnus. He’d graduated from Chico State last May and as a student had been deeply involved with Theta Chi—an unrecognized fraternity that went rogue in 2013 rather than comply with rules meant to address excessive partying and other issues within the school’s Greek system. That crackdown came after all fraternities and sororities were suspended in the wake of four student deaths in as many months in 2012. They were part of a sweeping community-wide effort to battle drug and alcohol abuse, a problem that’s plagued Chico for decades.

Should toxicology reports confirm what’s suspected—that alcohol and/or drug abuse led to the deaths of Euser and Scatena—CN&R urges the higher ed community and police department to issue a call to action for further education to combat the dangerous culture of binge drinking. Sure, we’ve been here before. But we also have a new crop of students every four or so years who are unfamiliar with the names Adrian Heideman, Matthew Carrington and Mason Sumnicht—just a few of the young people who’ve lost their lives in circumstances involving excessive drinking in Chico.

The fact that Scatena and Euser weren’t in college at the time of their deaths shouldn’t lessen the weight of their passings. Nor should it diminish the responses from the town and gown. By all accounts, both of them were deeply connected to the student community.

We understand that no amount of preparation, education or extra staffing can safeguard against abuse in a society where excessive drug and alcohol use are so pervasive. That said, ignoring two lives lost does a disservice to current students and the thousands who will come after them in this college town.