- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

MONTPELIER, VT. (AP) - A Middlebury College freshman who died under mysterious circumstances last year was drinking heavily in the hours before he vanished from campus and investigators found no evidence to suggest it was anything more than an accident, according to a new report.

Nicholas Garza, 19, of Albuquerque, N.M., disappeared Feb. 5, 2008, during a winter break at the college, prompting months of searching. On May 27, his body was found in a nearby creek.

An autopsy found no signs of assault or other trauma, but it failed to pinpoint a cause of death. Police Chief Tom Hanley said Friday it may never be known how Garza died.

“We will never be able to say how he got into the creek, because there are no witnesses,” he said.

Police on Thursday released a 30-page report summarizing Garza’s disappearance, the search for him and the recovery of his remains.

In it, investigators said Garza and fellow student Taylor Smith consumed at least 18 shots of rum and tequila between 8:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in a dormitory room the night he went missing. He vanished after leaving the dorm at about 11 p.m., according to the report.

Garza had bought the rum and tequila two days before his disappearance using a fake ID, Smith told police.

Using information provided by witnesses about Garza’s alcohol intake, the director of Middlebury College’s health center, Dr. Mark Peluso, estimated that his blood alcohol content was between .24 and .33, according to the report by Sgt. Michael Christopher. That would be far above the legal limit for adult drivers (.08).

No BAC could be determined at autopsy because of the effects of long-term immersion in the creek and decomposition of the body, the report said.

The search for Garza was hampered by a series of snowstorms in the five days after he was last seen, with search-and-rescue teams, cadaver-sniffing dogs and other law enforcement personnel combing the 350-acre campus and environs in a hunt for his body and belongings.

Nearly four months after he disappeared, Garza’s body was found in the creek, among sunken timbers in a floating debris pile below a waterfall.

The report elicited angry reactions Friday from Garza’s mother and aunt.

Natalie Garza, his mother, second-guessed the veracity of Smith’s account.

“The way the Middlebury police have handled this has been disgusting,” said Natalie Garza, 41.

She and her sister Tanya Sierra, 39, of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, believe police made up their minds early on that Garza was drunk when he disappeared.

“From the very beginning, the Middlebury police had the idea that it was a dumb, drunk frat boy who found a way to do damage to himself,” Sierra said.

Hanley denied that, saying no conclusions were reached until the investigation was complete.

Natalie Garza believes there’s more to the story than what’s in the report.

“I fully believe there’s a person who knows more. That’s all I’ll say,” she said Friday.


On the Net:

Report: https://www.middleburypolice.org/Garza%20Summary.PDF

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