Police: UK grad student’s death was an accident

By Alice Haymond

Brian Hardin, a UK graduate student, died in April from a brain hernia because of blunt trauma to the head, according to the autopsy report released Tuesday, but Lexington police said no foul play was involved.

Hardin, 27, had been walking away from Fish Tank Bar & Grill with a friend, said Detective Rob Wilson of Lexington police, when he tripped and fell on the sidewalk at 4:33 a.m. April 16 on the corner of East Maxwell Street and Woodland Avenue.

Hardin had a blood/alcohol level of 0.289, according the toxicology report, which is more than three times the legal driving limit of alcohol in Kentucky. He was taken to UK Hospital and died at 2:16 p.m.

Wilson, who has been leading an investigation of the incident since late April, said Tuesday that Hardin’s death was an accident, and as the investigation is now wrapping up, he does not anticipate anyone being charged with foul play.

Hardin’s alcohol level was not enough to kill him, said Dr. Greg Moore, director of UK HealthCare, but it could have contributed to his fall.

“With an alcohol level of 0.25 to 0.29, mental, physical and sensory functions are severely impaired, and there is risk of serious injury,” Moore said.

It is not until someone reaches a blood/alcohol level of 0.30 that the person has a risk of passing out. Once that level rises to 0.35, there is a chance of death from alcohol poisoning, Moore said.

Alcohol’s involvement in a student death is an unfortunate trend in recent years at UK. Andrew Smith, director of UK’s Alcohol Education Office, said Hardin’s death was different from those in the past because Hardin was well above legal drinking age. But he said that didn’t change the fact that other students have not changed their drinking habits despite the death of one of their peers during each of the past four academic years.

In 2006, Tevis Shaw, 20, was registered to begin his first semester at UK, but he fell off a cliff while intoxicated in the Red River Gorge area two days before the beginning of fall semester.

In 2005, Thomas Joseph Byers III, a 19-year-old English sophomore, was hit by a train after fleeing police at an off-campus party.

In 2004, Brian Anthony Muth, a 19-year-old accounting sophomore, was hit and killed by a tractor-trailer on New Circle Road soon after he was charged with alcohol intoxication and subsequently released to a friend.

Students tend to have a short-term memory of those deaths, Smith said. He said that many students change their behavior for a few weeks, but they soon forget.

“You would assume somebody’s death would hit home more than educational programs,” Smith said.

Hardin’s uncle and family spokesman John Kibler also emphasized that students should be careful when they drink or are out late at night.

“Accidents can happen and we learn that, if anything, students in the area should take this as an opportunity to be safe with themselves,” Kibler said.

Hardin was a Lexington native who had received his bachelor’s degree in physiology from UK and had been studying physiology at the graduate level at the time of his death. His research on muscle weakness in chronic diseases had been published by international journals.

“This was a horrible accident,” Kibler said. “The community lost someone who showed great promise and had done great things even at an early age.”

Hardin was the second UK student to die this year. Freshman Connie Blount was also walking with a friend in the early morning on April 13 when she died in a hit-and-run collision with a car.

Lexington resident Shannon Houser, 36, was arrested on charges of tampering with evidence and leaving the scene in connection with Blount’s death. He entered a not guilty plea and the case has moved to the grand jury. The Kernel requested Blount’s toxicology report from the Lexington Coroner’s Office, but the coroner will not release any findings while the criminal case is open.