When a student freezes to death, drinking is often involved — and that was apparently the case, police say, in the heartbreaking death of 20-year-old Minnesota nursing student Sandra Lommen, who was found unconscious in a lonely wooded area of Bemidji, a small city of about 13,000 in rural northwest Minnesota early Wednesday morning.
Lommen, from Bloomington, Minnesota, was a Dean’s List student in her first year at Bemidji State University in the small city. She had attended what police called a “social gathering” on Tuesday night where it appears that alcohol was served to underage students. The drinking age in Minnesota, as in all U.S. states, is 21.
According to Bemidji Police Chief Mike Matsin, Lommen left the “gathering” at about 2 am, intending to walk by herself back to her dormitory — almost two miles away. But she never made it there. At some point, she wandered off the main road into the woods.
The school partners with a local taxi company in the “Safe Ride” program, which for a flat fare of $3 provides rides for students who feel unwilling or unable to walk home in the evenings. Why Lommen failed to take advantage of the service has not been explained.
Nor has why Lommen strayed from the main roads into the dark, wooded area. But once in the woods, she stepped on a frozen creek. The ice cracked, plunging Lommen into the water, according to an account in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The young woman managed to pull herself out of the water but her coat, clothing, and boots were drenched as temperatures dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit early Wednesday morning in Bemidji.
About 150 feet from the frozen creek, Lommen appears to have collapsed.
A woman walking her dog found Lommen lying in the snow at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Lommen was unconscious but alive when emergency personnel got to her, and she was rushed to Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.
But the student was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The death of Sandra Lommen was the second tragedy in two weeks involving a young, female college student. On December 1, Wisconsin student Brooke Baures, a promising gymnast, was killed in a freak accident involving a restaurant food elevator.
Police are now conducting a criminal investigation, and say they plan to file charges when they discover who provided the underage student with the alcohol that appears to have played a role in her death. Police say Lommen emitted an odor of alcohol when she was found, but they could not yet specify the degree of her apparent intoxication.
Police were also still investigating for signs that Lommen may have been assaulted, but Matsin said that there appeared to be none and that this was apparently a terrible case of a student who does too much drinking, loses her way, and freezes to death.