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March 20, 2007

UPDATE: Officials say missing Purdue student fatally shocked in utility room

WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue University is investigating how a utility room containing dangerous high-voltage wires was left unlocked, allowing a student to walk in and be fatally shocked, officials said Tuesday.

Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said an autopsy suggests that Wade Steffey, 19, of Bloomington, tripped and fell behind a transformer inside the room, which is about 50 yards from where he was last seen Jan. 13 after he attended a fraternity party. He likely died instantly when he made contact with high-voltage wires, she said.

The school planned an independent investigation to find out why numerous searches of the campus and outskirts after Steffey vanished did not include a full inspection of the room.

“The search for Wade Steffey is over, but the search for answers continues,” Norberg said.

The freshman aviation technology student’s body was found Monday by a maintenance worker investigating reports of a “pinging” sound coming from Owen Hall’s utility room.

Norberg said Steffey, who did not have a pass key to the dorm, probably walked into the room after trying several doors to get into Owen Hall. Officials believe he was trying to retrieve a coat he left in a friend’s room before going to the party.

“He was apparently trying doors and found this door,” she said.

Classes resumed Monday after a week’s break on the campus in West Lafayette, just off Interstate 65, about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis. That day, someone called campus maintenance about a noise in the utility room that powers the coed dorm that houses about 700 students.

The worker unlocked the room from inside the hall and found Steffey’s body, Norberg said. Afterward, police discovered the room’s exterior door closed but unlocked.

Norberg said officials have removed that door’s lock assembly for a forensic examination to determine whether the mechanism works.

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    March 12, 2010