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College Settles in Suicide of Student

July 25, 2003

FERRUM, Va. (AP) _ A small liberal arts college has acknowledged it was partly responsible for a student’s suicide three years ago, as part of a settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the student’s family.

Michael Frentzel hanged himself in his Ferrum College dorm room in February 2000, after the dean of student affairs had the 19-year-old sign a statement declaring he wouldn’t hurt himself.

In the settlement announced Thursday, the school about 35 miles south of Roanoke cited ``errors in judgment and communication by school personnel″ as contributing to the suicide.

Terms of the settlement were not released, but Ferrum’s attorney, Jonnie Speight, said the college has agreed to change its crisis intervention procedure and improve student counseling.

The college’s acknowledgment is ``highly unusual,″ said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education. He told The Roanoke Times that he wasn’t aware of any other college or university that had acknowledged responsibility for a student’s suicide.

The college had placed Frentzel on disciplinary probation after police were called during a fight with classmates and another with his girlfriend, the newspaper reported.

The college’s dean of student affairs, David Newcombe, met with Frentzel and noticed he was bruised from banging his head against a wall and had self-inflicted scratches on his neck, according to the lawsuit. He then asked Frentzel to sign an agreement that he wouldn’t hurt himself.

Frentzel’s aunt and guardian, LaVerne Schieszler, had contended in the lawsuit that her nephew was ``crying out for help″ and had sent e-mail messages indicating he planned to kill himself.

In 2001, a federal district judge ruled there was some basis that the college and Newcombe could have foreseen the suicide.

A phone message left for Newcombe seeking comment was not immediately returned Friday, and efforts to reach him through the college public relations office were unsuccessful.


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