Local police officials discuss downtown safety in wake of death near ISU's VEISHEA

BY BETH BRATSOS | APRIL 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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In the wake of a death during Iowa State University's annual VEISHEA celebration, Iowa City police said calls to the department locally also tend to increase during such events as football that draw crowds to the city.

Iowa City police Sgt. Dave Droll said while the University of Iowa doesn't have an equivalent event to VEISHEA — which took place this past weekend in Ames — the department usually has additional employees work overtime to prepare for citywide events. The closest thing the department would have to prepare for would be a Hawkeye football game, particularly an Iowa/Iowa State or Wisconsin game, he said.

"[Football] brings in a lot more calls because there are a lot more people in town," he said. "But we usually have the resources to deal with what's going on with bigger events. We don't have the equivalent of VEISHEA, and that's probably a good thing."

Ames police responded at 2 a.m. April 21 to a report of an individual who fell from an apartment complex fourth-floor balcony, according to an Ames police press release.

The male, who has been identified as 21-year-old Mitchell Odell of Cedar Rapids, was transported to Mary Greeley Medical Center and pronounced dead due to injuries received in the fall, the report said. The fall was reported to have been an accident.

One UI student who knew Odell said his friend's death came as a shock.

"He had a lot of ambition and desire to be smart, desire to expand himself," said Jerry Mattox, a University of Iowa junior who had known Odell since middle school.

Droll said Iowa City police responded to a similar report of someone falling from a balcony around four years ago. He said the fall, which occurred in the 200 block of Burlington Street, also resulted in fatal injuries.

"It does happen. It doesn't take VEISHEA to do it," he said. "I wouldn't want to give the impression that that only happens on big weekends."

Stan Laverman, the Iowa City senior housing inspector for rental housing, said balcony guardrails are required to be 3 feet tall in a single family apartment and 3 1/2 feet tall in multifamily apartments.

"[Complete fences] are above and beyond the code requirements," he said.

Iowa State University News Service Director Annette Hacker said VEISHEA, which started in 1922 as a weeklong entertainment and education showcase for the university, will continue as normal next year. All on-campus activities are designed to be alcohol-free, and drinking is not part of the official celebration, she noted.

"[The incident] occurred at a private residence off-campus," she said. "We encourage students and their guests to be safe during the event and at all times."

VEISHEA has experienced wild activity in the past, including a riot in 2004 that caused officials to cancel the event in 2005.

Jim Robinson, investigations commander for Ames police, said the number of alcohol-related offenses goes up dramatically during VEISHEA weekend compared with a normal weekend.

A murder occurred during VEISHEA in 1997, Robinson said.

"We don't have a death like this every VEISHEA," he said. "That would be the exception, not the rule."

While Ames police officials responded to this weekend's incident, Iowa State University police Lt. Aaron DeLashmutt said his department also sees an increase in alcohol-related citations during VEISHEA weekends: 127 this year out of 157 total charges issued.

However, he said, "[Reports of death] are out of the ordinary."

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