WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University student fatally shocked last winter in a high-voltage campus utility room entered that room through a door with a faulty lock that might have prevented it from being securely latched, a consultant concluded.
Purdue hired Rimkus Consulting Group Inc., which specializes in accident reconstruction, for its investigation into the death of Wade Steffey. The 19-year-old from Bloomington vanished Jan. 13 after trying to enter Owen Hall to retrieve a coat he had left there before attending a fraternity party.
Police and volunteers conducted several massive searches for the freshman honor student, but Steffey's body was not found until March 19 in Owen Hall's utility room.
Among its findings in a report released Monday, the consultant found that Steffey, who had been drinking alcohol, was able to enter the utility room because its exterior door was "most probably not securely latched, or it was unlocked, at the time of the incident."
Although Purdue staffers indicated that they believed they locked the door every time they had entered the electrical room for maintenance, the report says consultants found the door did not lock securely unless it was closed forcefully.
"Based on our investigation and testing, the exterior door to the electrical vault was most probably not adequately secured," the report found.
The report also examined Purdue's Wiley and Tarkington residence halls, which were built about the same time as Owen Hall using the same locking configuration. It found that those building's hardware-sets were in a condition that prevented the bolts from fully engaging every time they were closed and locked.
Steffey entered the high-voltage room after climbing over or through a railing and step into a concrete area about 4 feet below ground level, the report said.
The consultant found that the utility room and the electrical equipment inside it were in compliance with applicable government regulations.
Rimkus Consulting Group's report said Steffey had a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit to drive a vehicle in Indiana at the time of his death.
The report did not reveal Steffey's blood-alcohol content, saying only that it was above the "legal limit of 0.08 percent, but not a lethal level." That information came from a separate toxicology report performed for the Tippecanoe County coroner's office.
Steffey was fatally shocked when he inserted a finger into an opening in a transformer, touching a conductor that delivered the fatal shock, the report said.
His shoeless body was found contorted behind a transformer in the utility room, which would have been nearly pitch-black inside when he entered it early on Jan. 13, the report found.
Steffey's left ring-finger had entered an inch-wide hole on the transformer, touching a conductor that delivered the fatal shock. One of Steffey's shoes was found inside the utility room and the other was found outside it.
Morgan Olsen, Purdue's executive vice president and treasurer, said in a statement that the consultant's report completes the investigation into the circumstances of Steffey's death.
"We now have a more complete picture of what led up to this unfortunate event. We may never know, however, exactly what happened or what motivated Wade Steffey to enter the electrical vault," he said.