October 25, 2010

King ’13 Death Was Accidental, Followed Night of Partying, Police Documents Say

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The sudden death of Khalil King ’13 in Fall Creek Gorge in late August was officially ruled “accidental” by a coroner, according to police documents released last week. The documents shed some light on the events leading up to King’s death but offer little insight into the exact circumstances surrounding it.

King’s death was preceded by a night of partying in Collegetown and on West Campus that involved alcohol and possibly drugs, according to the documents, which include witness statements and interviews as well as police notes about the investigation and recovery efforts.

On Friday, Aug. 27, King and a friend attended tryouts held by the club soccer team. Following tryouts, the friend said he left King, but the two continued to text throughout the night as they went to different parties.

King attended a party at a house in Collegetown. A witness at that party, a 17-year-old Cornell freshman, told police that he spoke with King “for a good portion of the time” that they were at the party. The witness said he observed an odor on King and asked him if he had been smoking.

“He told me he was [smoking] but he did not tell me what, when, or where he had smoked,” the witness told police. The witness said he did not observe King drinking at the Collegetown house party.

Sometime between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., witnesses told police that King left the Collegetown party and went to Psi Upsilon fraternity on West Campus. At Psi Upsilon, King met up with the same friend with whom he attended soccer tryouts earlier in the day.

At that point, King seemed intoxicated, the friend told police, but noted King was “not as bad as I have seen him at other times. He was at a happy stage.”

The friend also told police that King may have been high on marijuana at the time because the friend said it was available at the fraternity and he knew that King occasionally smoked. However, the friend acknowledged that he did not see King the entire time that they were at the Psi Upsilon house.

Sometime between 3 and 3:30 a.m., King and his friend left Psi Upsilon, but decided they did not want to go home yet. At around 3:30 or 3:40 a.m., the pair walked to a fraternity on McGraw Place to visit friends.

“[King] was by the side of the [Fiji] building when he started to motion to me to back up,” the friend told police. “[King] then started running at me and said in a quiet voice, ‘run, run.’ I thought that maybe because of the way he said it that he might have seen an animal and did not want to scare it.”

At that point, according to the friend, both he and King started running. They ran across the McGraw Place parking lot to the wooded trail behind the Fiji fraternity. When they came to the opening of the trail, the friend said he stopped but King continued running west down the trail that leads to Stewart Avenue.

“I called for him to stop, but he didn’t,” the friend said in the statement. “I stayed there. I did not see or hear anything. I waited for a minute and then tried to call him [at 3:45 a.m.].”

The friend called King’s phone again at 3:48 a.m., but King did not answer.

“I started to walk home believing that Khalil was just being Khalil,” the friend said. “He would do thing[s] like this and then show up later.”

The friend said he called King again at 4:03 a.m., went to King’s room in Ujamaa to wait for him, and then tried calling King several times the next morning.

The friend said that he was not, at first, too concerned about King’s sudden disappearance.

“He was flighty,” the friend told police. “He would disappear at times. It would not be out of character for him to just think he heard or saw something and run to play a trick or just to run.”

Police interviews with several of King’s other friends confirm this pattern of behavior.

“Khalil could be all over the place at times,” one friend, a Cornell student, told police. “I was not alarmed when [someone] called and asked if I knew where Khalil was.”

However, as the hours passed on Saturday morning without any sign from King, his friends became concerned. They made missing person signs, went searching around the trail where he was last seen, and posted Facebook status updates soliciting information about King’s whereabouts.

The incident was first reported to the police at about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. King’s body was recovered around 1 p.m. on Sunday from a deep pool of water in the Fall Creek Gorge east of the Stewart Avenue Bridge. The immediate cause of death was “skull and vertebral fracture” which was a consequence of a “fall over 200 feet into [the] gorge, body of water,” Dr. Robin Eastman-Abaya wrote on a certificate of death.

The police documents offer few, if any, conclusive answers as to the exact circumstances surrounding King’s death

However, one of King’s friends, a Cornell sophomore, speculated to police about the cause of King’s death: “[King] was a heavy cannabis smoker and would binge drink with the rest of us on the weekends and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was a tragic accident likely caused by those substances.”

The Ithaca Police Department released the documents last week in response to a Freedom of Information Law request made by The Sun in mid-September.

Original Author: Michael Stratford