I-Team: New information in drowning death of Northwestern student Harsha Maddula

Northwestern University sophomore Harsha Maddula, 18, disappeared just after midnight Saturday morning. Friends saw him leaving an off-campus party. Later they realized he wasn't with them as they walked to another party.

February 26, 2013 3:23:03 PM PST
The ABC 7 I-Team has learned new information about the death of Northwestern University Student Harsha Maddula.

It has been five months since Maddula disappeared and was found floating in Wilmette Harbor.

After Maddula's body was found, police and university officials made it publicly clear that there was no evidence of foul play, that the 18-year-old drowned, either by accident or suicide.

But there was more to the story. The I-Team has learned that behind the scenes there was a different type of official investigation under way, one that involved grand jury subpoenas and voice stress tests given to several of Maddula's friends.

The family of Northwestern sophomore Maddula last spoke publicly in September. During the week-long search for the New York native, Maddula's parents made impassioned pleas for help. After he was found, they asked for answers. Now, the I-Team has learned they have hired an attorney from a law firm with a track of record of large, wrongful death settlements.

A copy of the Evanston police case report explains what happened September 21, 2012, when Maddula and friends met in a campus dorm room. The report says they smoked marijuana, and they consumed rum and vodka bought by a stranger on the street earlier in the day.

Read the Evanston Police Department Reports on Harsha Maddula's disappearance and death here:

Part 1 of Harsha Maddula police report

Part 2 of Harsha Maddula police report

Part 3 of Harsha Maddula police report

Police say Maddula went to two parties, the last at an off-campus fraternity house. One friend stated, "At some point the group realized that Harsha was not with them anymore".

Five days later Maddula was "discovered floating" in Wilmette Harbor, fully clothed, still in possession of his iPhone and $130. Authorities say his zipper was down, and they suspect he had stopped to urinate in the harbor and fell in.

The I-Team has learned that three voice stress tests were given to witnesses who were with Maddula the last night he was seen alive. Police say they did not indicate any wrongdoing.

Finally, authorities say toxicology test reports just completed show Maddula's blood-alcohol level at twice the legal limit, leading them to conclude he was drunk, he drowned and that it was an accident.

Tonight on ABC 7 News at 10 p.m.: Others who died the same way, hundreds of cases the past 15 years across the Midwest. Some investigators think they may be connected and more than accidental.

Police say they tried to find security cameras of Harsha Maddula that would show him walking toward the harbor that night in September, or at the Wilmette Harbor to verify what they have now concluded, that he fell in while urinating and drowned.

According to investigators, the only cameras that could have shown those scenes were at the nearby Baha'i Temple, but at night, giant floodlights that shine on the temple completely washed out whatever video there may be of his final moments.

This statement by Northwestern University Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin was released on Tuesday:

"We have been waiting for months to learn more details about the tragic loss of our student Harsha Maddula, and we have learned more this week about the circumstances of his death. On behalf of Northwestern University, I offer our deepest sympathies to his family and friends. As President Schapiro said last fall when we learned of Harsha's death, the loss of one member of our community affects us all.

We are saddened by the fact that alcohol may have been a factor in Harsha's death. Northwestern has long had in place policies and programs to address alcohol and substance abuse, including required alcohol education for all new students, intervention training for students, counseling services for alcohol and substance abuse problems, and disciplinary rules that address standards students are expected to meet. The University continuously assesses how to address this problem, which is not unique to Northwestern, and as part of that effort, funds academic research into substance abuse and related problems on college and university campuses.

This should be a time for all of us to learn from the most difficult of losses, to reflect on what each of us can do to reduce harmful behavior and to take care of each other. I would like to remind you of the services and programs available to students if there is a need to continue healing or to address concerns around substance abuse. The Counseling and Psychological Services office is a resource on campus available to assist.

Again, we extend our sincere condolences to Harsha's family and to his friends here at Northwestern."