ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Byung Soo Kim just wanted to celebrate his 21st birthday.
But after downing as many as 20 shots of whiskey at a party early Saturday, the engineering student from South Korea passed out. He died yesterday morning in the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Washtenaw County Medical Examiner Bader Cassin said that Mr. Kim's blood-alcohol content was 0.39 per cent, almost four times the legal limit for driving. In Michigan, 0.10 per cent is legally drunk.
“We're going to determine the cause of death and if there was any criminality,” said Ann Arbor police Lt. Jim Tieman. “Once the report is complete, it will be forwarded to the prosecutor for their review.''
Police still don't know how long it took Mr. Byung to down the 20 drinks.
``That seems to be the burning question,'' the lieutenant said.
Mr. Byung and about a dozen friends gathered Friday night in an off-campus apartment at the Willow Tree Complex. Ann Arbor police said he was trying to down a shot for every year of his life, but passed out after the 20th shot.
A friend put Mr. Byung in a bedroom, police said.
Police were called to the north side apartment at 1:42 a.m. Saturday.
When they arrived, they found two young men passed out. An unconscious Mr. Byung was in the back bedroom. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Friends spent the weekend there, praying for his recovery.
He was pronounced dead by hospital officials at 6 a.m. yesterday morning.
Police have declined to release the name of the other man who was taken to the hospital. He is expected to recover.
Mr. Byung's parents, medical doctors in Seoul, flew to Michigan on Sunday. The couple had spent a year in Ann Arbor in 1989 as visiting scholars, family friends said.
“We hope that all who knew and loved our son will remember him as selfless, supportive, considerate, loving, and kind,” Jung Sun Park, Mr. Byung's mother, said yesterday at a news conference.
“We would like to emphasize that this incident does not represent our son's usual behavior. He did not drink regularly and according to his friends was often the one to take care of friends who had had too much to drink.”
Although the incident happened off campus, Mr. Byung's death has shaken the university, which has struggled in recent years with student drinking. But despite educational campaigns and other initiatives in residence halls and within the fraternity/sorority system, the problem persists.
Michigan's 1999 student life survey found that 45 per cent of undergraduate students had indulged in binge drinking in the last two years.
“What's needed is not a lesson in abstinence but a lesson in what makes good sense,” said Philip Ivanhoe, a University of Michigan professor of philosophy and Asian languages and culture.
“I think students don't feel connected,'' he said. “When they go to college, and are disconnected from their families, they feel such a terrible desire to be part of something. We need better rituals to pass your 21st birthday.”