Evanston police say alcohol was a contributing factor in the accidental drowning of Northwestern University sophomore Harsha Maddula, whose body was found in Wilmette Harbor in September 2012.
A toxicology report from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office indicated that Maddula had a blood alcohol level of .125, or roughly 1.5 times the legal driving limit of .08, according to Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott.
“Although the medical examiner is determining the death to be a drowning, and the cause undetermined, the investigation from the police department appears to show that this was accidental in nature with a contributing factor being alcohol consumption,” Parrott told Patch.
Maddula, a pre-med student from Garden City Park, NY, was last seen alive leaving a party in the 2000 block of Ridge Avenue around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 22. His cell phone last transmitted a signal in the early morning hours of that same Saturday near a tower in Wilmette Harbor, and a fisherman found his body five days later in the harbor.
Parrott told Patch, while one student reported seeing him smoking marijuana.
“Alcohol affects everybody differently,” Parrott said. “In this particular case, Harsha was 18 years old—so probably not an experienced consumer of alcohol—fairly small build, didn’t weigh a lot.”
According to friends and family, Maddula had recently been diagnosed with type I diabetes, which requires insulin injections to stabilize sugar levels in the blood. Parrott said diabetes did not appear to be a factor in his death, however, since the toxicology report showed his glucose readings to be normal.
There is also no indication that his death was a suicide, and no indications of foul play, according to Parrott. The medical examiner’s office did not find any signs of blunt trauma on Maddula’s body, although they did find a bruise on top of his head, according to Parrott.
“When he fell into the lake he might have hit his head or rubbed up against a pier post, but it wasn’t consistent with somebody cracking him on the head and knocking him out,” he said.
The medical examiner’s office did not find any other injuries on Maddula’s body, and his hands and fingernails did not indicate any signs of struggle, according to Parrott.
Parrott said Maddula’s pants zipper was also down, indicating that he may have stopped to urinate, or that he forgot to pull it back up earlier.
Maddula’s body was found near the piers in Wilmette Harbor, which are very unstable and narrow, according to Parrott—a danger compounded by the fact that the water levels at the harbor were estimated to be 5 to 7 feet below normal last year.
“If he fell into the water, he might have ingested water right away,” Parrott said. “He was obviously intoxicated, and that would contribute to his disorientation.”
Maddula lived in Northwestern University's Public Affairs Residential College, at 1838 Chicago Ave., a little less than a mile’s walk southeast of the party friends say he was attending in the 2000 block of Ridge Avenue. His last cell phone conversation took place around 12:35 a.m., according to Parrott, when he spoke to a friend and said he was at home at his dorm. Wilmette Harbor, where his body was found, is about a two mile walk from either the party or his dorm.
Asked what Maddula might have been doing in Wilmette Harbor, Parrott said police still don’t know. Detectives interviewed several friends about what they knew, all of whom submitted to voice stress analyzer tests to see whether they were being deceptive. But the tests seem to indicate everyone was telling the truth, according to Parrott.
“In terms of the police investigation, we’ve tried to be as thorough as we possibly can,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a tragic incident that had a very bad outcome.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated with further information from the Evanston Police Department at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26.