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Preventing tragedy after a night out

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – It’s been five years since University of Vermont freshman Connor gage died of hypothermia after passing out coming home from several fraternity parties.

Investigators say temperatures reached -4 degrees the night Gage died, and he wasn’t wearing adequate clothing for the weather.

In the years following, the university says they’ve taken several steps to never let it happen again.

“It continues to be a focus on drug and alcohol education on multiple fronts,” UVM Drug and Alcohol Initiatives manager Tom Fontana said.

UVM Drug and Alcohol Initiatives manager Tom Fontana says in this effort, he meets with people one-on-one and with groups like Greek life, varsity sports, and club sports – talking to them about drug and alcohol safety.

“In particularly with weather, the idea of should I just walk home, should I go, you extra want to be thoughtful and no we’re not immune to things,” Fontana said. ”There is no alcohol blanket, there is no warmth that you actually have. You’re just expending your warmth quicker, and we just want to be aware of that.”

We talked to UVM students about their safety plan when going to bars or parties on winter nights – and the cheap jacket – seems to be a popular choice.

“Always bundle up, get a fracket, get a frat jacket,” UVM student Alana Harty said.

“Yes that’s very important go get a cheap overcoat that you don’t care if you lose, because it’ll keep you warm because alcohol blankets are not real,” UVM student Eli Scholman said.

“I always go prepared with a jacket, I know a lot of people tend to not come prepared in that area, so a jacket and a hat is a must,” UVM student Andrew Horvat said.

And they keep tabs on their friends throughout the night.

“Plus I always try to text my friends whenever I get back after I walk home,” Horvat said.

“If you are walking back, if you go with a group, leave with a group and never leave anyone behind,” Harty said.

And Fontana says he feels the students play a key roll in keeping each other safe.

“The students care, they want to take care of each other, they want to know this information, so certainly a lot of credit to them,” Fontana said.

Data from the last several years shows positive change – with a decrease in the number of people severely intoxicated and in need of medical attention.

“I think the way we can see that pay off is to see how many people get hospitalized in a year and it has gone from over 300 to well under 100,” Fontana said.

Fontana says the decrease in hospitalizations comes from a mixture of factors – the school’s work to educate on alcohol safety, students watching out for one another – and a potential general shift in drinking culture with more people staying sober.

But he says he is encouraged by a downward trend – in his mission to never let preventable tragedies like Connor Gage’s happen again.

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