Alcohol-related deaths on the rise

By Jillian Smith
April 12, 2007

Michelle Joy Fitzgerald

Until the death of Victoria “Vicki” Hickman, a York College freshman, sophomore elementary education major Michele Fitzgerald and freshman undeclared major Nick Pitts, never knew one another. “She brought us together,” Pitts said. “It was nice not to feel alone.”

To Fitzgerald, Hickman, a friend, was the “pick me up. There was never a dull moment.”

To Pitts, Hickman was not only his second cousin by marriage (his dad and her dad are cousins) but one of his best friends when they were little. “I never saw her in a bad mood.”

On Nov. 27, 2006, the 18-year old was found unresponsive in her dorm room at 11:44 a.m. in the Laurel Hall on York’s campus. She was pronounced dead after arriving at York Hospital.

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse in 1998 found “approximately 240,000 to 360,000 of the nation’s 12 million current undergraduates will ultimately die from alcohol-related causes-more than the number that will get MAs and PhDs combined.”

The toxicology report came back on Jan. 23 stating that Hickman died of a “massive alcohol overdose” and her blood alcohol content was 0.33 percent, which is four times the legal limit of Pennsylvania state law.

Lt. Ron Camacho, who supervises the city’s detective bureau, told reporters, “That’s an incredible amount of alcohol,” about the toxicology report on Hickman. “I would say that is relatively rare,” and his “detectives don’t often come across fatal alcohol poisonings,” he said.

However, according to, the odds of a teen dying of an alcohol-related death is 9 in 100,000.

“Approximately 13,212,000 underage youth in the United States drink each year.” That breaks down into 78 percent had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days during their life; 30 percent had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row in the past 30 days; five percent had at least one drink of alcohol on school property on one or more of the past 30 days, according to

“She was drinking at the dorm with other people, just drinking shots – vodka – not beer,” York City Police Detective Jeffrey Spence told reporters.

“I just assumed she knew her limit,” Fitgerald said. “Apparently she didn’t.” Fitzgerald explained that Hickman didn’t get back to the college until late that night, which means Hickman started drinking fast to “catch up” with her friends. “It was an insanely amount of alcohol for a small girl.”

Pitts agreed. “She was entirely too drunk in such a short amount of time.”

In a report issued by Pennsylvanians Against Underage Drinking, “Nearly half of [teenagers] drink to excess, consuming five or more drinks in a row.” Another survey issued by the American Medical Association in 1996 found that “33 percent of 19- and 20-year olds consume at least four alcoholic beverages on an average night, and 20 percent have six or more drink”

Hickman’s viewing was Friday, Dec. 1 at Ingelsby and Sons in Pennsauken, N.J. and a service on Saturday, Dec. 2 at Asbury Methodist Church in Cinnaminson, N.J. Following the service, Hickmam’s burial was held at Lakeview Memorial Park, Cinnaminson, N.J.

“I was devastated and felt totally helpless,” Pitts said after hearing his cousin had died. “I was mad we had lost touch. I can’t even remember the last time I saw her.”

Alcohol kills six and a half times more youth than all other illicit drugs combined, according to Substance Abuse: “The Nation’s Number One Health Problem.”

In more recent news, Gary DeVercelly, a Rider University freshman, “died Friday, March 30, after excessive drinking at a fraternity house on the university’s campus,” a hospital spokesman said. Police arrived on Rider’s campus at 1:52 a.m. Thursday night “on a report of a student vomiting from drinking alcohol,” according to DeVercelly was pronounced dead at 10:50 a.m. Friday morning from alcohol poisoning.

In a survey found on, “the total number of deaths among those aged 10-19 in 1995 was 14,600, meaning that 23 percent of adolescent deaths that year can be blamed on alcohol.”

Now, Fitzgerald and Pitts can only hope that students learn from Hickman’s mistake. “People need to learn that it’s not a joke, it’s not all fun and games,” Fitzgerald said. “They don’t really understand what risks they’re taking.”

“College students drink to get drunk,” Pitts said. “They don’t realize the severity.”

To honor Hickman’s memory, friends and family plan to do a memorial sky-diving jump, one of Hickman’s favorite things to do, on her birthday April 22.

Fitzgerald is going to jump for Hickman. “It’s the closest thing I’ll get to her now.”

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Jillian Smith

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