OXFORD - Beth Speidel, 19, was drunk when a freight train struck and killed her.
Now five of her friends - all female, all too young to drink alcohol legally - are accused of helping the Miami University sophomore get drunk.
In a rare situation, police Friday filed misdemeanor charges against those five Miami students - the first time in his 29-year career that Oxford Police Sgt. Jim Squance can recall people being charged with supplying alcohol in an alcohol-related death.
"It's unusual for us, because we don't have that many people that die related to alcohol," he said.
Another factor: Investigators often can't track down the alcohol's source, Squance said.
But in this case, he said evidence points to five of Speidel's friends. Two 20-year-olds, Danielle Davis and Kristina K. Sicker, and two 19-year-olds, Christine A. Carr and Kathleen A. Byrne, are charged with permitting underage consumption at private residences. In addition, 20-year-old Maureen E. Grady is accused of buying alcohol for Speidel at an undisclosed tavern in Oxford's Uptown area.
All five were released on their promise to appear for hearings in Butler County Area I Court, set for May 3. If convicted, they could each get as much as six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Neither Speidel's parents nor the charged students were able to be reached Friday.
Squance said the situation is especially sad because Speidel's friends are facing criminal accusations while grieving her death.
"We're very sensitive to the victim and the victim's family and friends," he said. "We know that emotions are running very high now, but we have an obligation and a duty to issue citations if we feel there's been a violation of the law - and that's exactly what we did."
Being a college town, Oxford has its share of alcohol-related offenses, but generally has avoided tragic results, Squance said.
"Over the past couple of years, we've kind of dodged the bullet. We've seen a number of cases that could have ended in tragedy. But they didn't, because someone took some type of action to alleviate a disaster," he said.
The case provides a dramatic local example of the nationwide issue of alcohol abuse among college students.
"We're wasting the best and the brightest," Squance said, citing a Columbia University study that says young adults are drinking more frequently.
"This young person had too much to drink," Squance said. "She wandered away, and I don't know if we ever will know what happened on that train track."
Speidel was hit and killed about 1:15 a.m. last Saturday by a southbound CSX freight train traveling 35 mph, according to police reports. The train was traveling through a well-marked crossing about a mile from her dorm room.
Her body lay undiscovered until another train traveled the same track two hours later.
Speidel, a speech pathology major, had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, the Butler County Coroner's Office said.
"People, when they drink too much, tend to make bad decisions - and those decisions tend to be life-altering," Squance said.
Squance said Miami University already has programs aimed at educating students about the dangers of drinking. The police department also works with tavern owners to educate bartenders about avoiding serving to underage people.