University of Illinois officials will work with authorities in Champaign-Urbana to end the student tradition of binge-drinking on “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” following the death of a Chicago-area undergrad this weekend.
Jonathan Morales, 23, of Franklin Park, died over the weekend of injuries suffered when he fell from a fourth-floor balcony at an apartment near the campus late Friday, becoming the third student to die in a little over a decade during the hard-drinking “Unofficial” festivities, the Champaign News-Gazette reported. Police said Morales had been drinking with friends, and the fall is believed to be accidental.
U of I Chancellor Robert Jones said Friday he would use the university’s “convening power” to rally community leaders to help end the tradition before the next boozy observance of “Unofficial.”
Morales’ death left Jones “speechless,” he told the News-Gazette. “It left me speechless, left me very, very saddened for this young man and his family. Because it’s senseless. The whole event is senseless. It was very unsettling to me.
The university’s online archives pegs the first observance of “Unofficial” as 1995, when the official St. Patrick’s Day fell during U of I’s spring break, and local bar owners organized the first “Shamrock Stagger” for March 8, to avoid missing out on a presumably profitable holiday surge in customers.
A group of taverns with common ownership began referring to the event as “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” in advertising in subsequent years, and the events were moved a full week from U of I’s Spring Break, again, presumably, to maximize crowds.
Jones has been on the job just six months, and his efforts will not be the first time university officials have tried to stamp out “Unofficial.” In 2006, the Chancellor’s Office formed a task force after issuing a report that detailed the excess of the celebration, “including vandalism of University bathrooms, vomit on sidewalks, sober students skipping class to avoid drunken peers, inebriated students passing out in public spaces and on sidewalks, and significant increases in calls for police services [and arrests].”
That year, U of I alumna Caroline Yoon died in a motorcycle crash near campus, struck by a drunk driver.
In the years since, the mayor of Champaign has used his powers as the city’s liquor commissioner to try to limit consumption by restricting alcohol sales in the city, the archives state. The police chiefs for Champaign, Urbana and the university this year issued a nine-page bulletin titled “Unofficial Keys to success,” warning students about the dangers of excessive drinking and outlining the penalties for underage drinking, drunk driving and other alcohol-related offenses.