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Tuesday, October 04, 2005



More about Lance:

Lance’s legacy: More than just a stat


Lance Strickland should be preparing for college right now. He should be volunteering in grade schools, fighting fires and fishing with buddies.

Instead, the 18-year-old from Joseph was found dead Sept. 3 in an unoccupied room in Finley Hall at Oregon State University.

Since his death last month, Lance went from vital athlete, son, friend and mentor to the face college health experts and media outlets use to accompany cautionary tales about underage and binge drinking. But to those who knew him, Lance’s story is more than an illustration of a statistic.

Switching between present and past tense, Bill recounted the legacy his son left to his family and tight-knit hometown.

“He liked sports. He liked to fish, and he was good at it. A lot of times, we’d go fishing, and he’d be the only one who caught anything.”

When his son came to OSU during the first weekend in September to visit a friend on the football team, Bill assumed Lance would return home safe and happy. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Lance spent the Friday evening before the Beavers’ first home game of the season partying on campus and drinking whiskey. Lance drank too much. Friends left him in a dorm room to sleep off the booze, and he never woke up.

An autopsy revealed that Lance’s blood-alcohol level was .43. A person is considered legally intoxicated with a blood-alcohol level that exceeds .08. Lance’s death was attributed to either alcohol poisoning or aspiration of vomit.

Three OSU football players have been charged with crimes relating to Lance’s death. Greggory Daniel Peat, 17 at the time of the incident, and Michael Marks, 18, were each indicted on two counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor. John Christian Ronnfeldt, 21, was indicted on four counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Lance is survived by his father, Bill; his mother, Diana Wortman; and siblings Jacob, Liza and Emma Strickland.

A life cut short

At the time of his death, Lance was working as a firefighter. He planned to attend Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, next year.

“He wanted to study accounting of all things,” Bill said. “It was kind of surprising to me.”

Much more surprising to friends and former teachers is the fact that he’ll never realize his dream of opening an accounting firm in his hometown.

“It was innocent fun gone bad,” said Larry Johnson, athletic director of Joseph High School. “You hear about those kinds of things happening, but you don’t expect it to happen to a kid you know really well.”

Lance, a three-sport athlete, worked with Johnson during high school. He also acted as the teacher’s assistant for two years, helping teach PE classes to grade-school students.

“He was outstanding,” Johnson recalled. “The young kids really looked up to him. He didn’t have an enemy one. He was just one of those kids who was just a pleasure to be around.”

Lance graduated from Joseph High School in June 2005. He played baseball and football and also wrestled. His senior year, he went to the state wrestling championships, where he placed sixth in the 160-pound weight division. In 2004, he received a degree from the Oregon FFA program, which emphasizes the practical and applied study of math, science, English, social science and leadership using agriculture education.

One of the students partying with Lance on the night he died was Clayton Hayward, 18, a friend from Joseph.

Clayton’s father, Mike Hayward, said the death rattled the town. With a population of just 1,000, practically everyone’s a neighbor in Joseph.

“There’s this sense among parents that this could happen to anyone,” he said.

Stemming the tide

Lance Strickland’s death is only one of the alcohol-related tragedies to strike the campus community in recent years. Since 2001, at least four OSU students have died or sustained serious injuries in incidents tied to alcohol.

Eric Alexander, OSU’s substance abuse prevention coordinator, said excessive alcohol use is a concern for colleges across the nation, including OSU.

As Frank the Tank from “Old School” becomes this generation’s Bluto of “Animal House,” advertising, marketing and media images perpetuate a false perception that binge drinking is a rite of passage, Alexander said.

The university hired Alexander in June as the full-time coordinator of its campuswide substance abuse prevention strategies, policies and educational programs.

To begin to reverse the trend of problem drinking among college students, Alexander emphasizes a proactive and holistic approach. Rather than waiting to respond to tragedies such as Lance’s death, Alexander tries to work with individual students, the OSU community, Corvallis businesses, neighborhood associations and local law enforcement to chip away at the number of students drinking to excess.

A friend remembered

Clayton Lowe, 18, of Joseph played football with Lance for six years and wrestled alongside him for five. Lowe has fond memories of times the two spent on buses traveling to away games or fishing on the Snake River during their senior ag class trip.

The freshman at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande laughed as he conjured up a memory of Lance putting a kneepad on his head “like a Smurf’s hat” and clowning around to make his teammates smile.

“He led more by example than anything else. We all respected him because he played really hard. He never talked smack about anyone. He talked with his cleats like you’re supposed to,” Lowe said. “He was not a quitter. He never complained. Coaches loved him for that. We all did.”

Lowe attended his friend’s funeral at the Enterprise Cemetery, donning his high school football jersey as a tribute to his teammate. Lance’s own jersey draped his coffin.

“I cried,” Lowe said. “A lot of us did.”

Recent deaths

In recent years, there have been numerous alcohol-related injuries and deaths involving the Corvallis college community.

  • May 2001: Sean Matsuda, a 19-year-old pre-dentistry student at OSU, drowned while partying with his fraternity at Lake Shasta. “Shasta Weekend,” which usually coincides with OSU’s Mother’s Day Weekend, has since come under fire as a dangerous tradition that encourages the potentially deadly combination of boating and alcohol.
  • March 2002: OSU student Spencer Haugh, 20, died after falling off a fire escape at a fraternity. He had a blood-alcohol content of .20.
  • May 2005: The annual Shasta rite of passage came under further scrutiny with the suicide of 22-year-old Gina Zalunardo, an OSU student partying on Slaughterhouse Island with members of the university’s Greek community. Autopsy reports listed Zalunardo’s blood-alcohol level at 0.14.
  • May 2005: Kevin Manning, a 20-year-old OSU student, seriously injured his neck and spinal cord when he dived into a makeshift swimming pool at a fraternity house. Investigators reported that alcohol played a role in the incident.
  • September 2005: Lance Strickland, an 18-year-old from Joseph, died in an OSU dorm room while partying with friends before a football game. His blood-alcohol level was .43, and his death was attributed to either alcohol poisoning or aspiration of vomit


Again, my deepest condolences to Lance's friends and family.

Toviyah Lowe

Clayton Lowe is my older brother. I remember how hard it was for him to sit down with me and tell me that his wrestling buddy and fishing confidant had died. I knew Lance too and the funeral was so intense with emotion. He was so young and funny and talented.

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