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22-year-old found dead in dorm room

| Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003

A 22-year-old Washington & Jefferson College student and former competitive swimmer from Sharpsburg was found Tuesday morning slumped over his desk, the cause of his death still a mystery.

Jim Gross, a senior psychology major, was discovered at 9:30 a.m. by his roommate Ben Buhite. Paramedics were called and Gross was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

College spokeswoman Rita McConnell said police have ruled out foul play. An autopsy was to be done last evening.

Although Washington County Coroner Tim Warco said drug use was suspected, McConnell said she wanted to wait to see a toxicology report.

"I think it is important not to confuse the coroner's initial reaction with his actual report. I am not inclined to put a label on my student as a drug user. I think that is very premature at this time," she said. "I don't mean to disrespect the office of the coroner, but I stand by my student until I see the toxicology report."

Gross's family lives in Sharpsburg but he graduated from The Kiski School in Saltsburg, an all-boys preparatory boarding school. He was recruited for the Washington & Jefferson swim team, said Michael H. Orstein, the college's swimming coach.

Orstein said he had known Gross since the young man was 8 years old and competing against Orstein's son through Allegheny Mountain Swimming, a Pittsburgh-based swimming association.

"He was a heck of a swimmer. He was a very talented young man," said Orstein, who added that Gross swam for the college only during his freshman year because he was burned out from swimming since age 7.

Gross was last seen at midnight Tuesday by his roommates. He lived in the residence hall that opened last year at College and East Beau streets. He shared a suite with three other men in the co-ed dorm.

McConnell said nothing in Gross's dorm was disturbed but declined further comment. Washington police are investigating and referred all further questions to the college.

McConnell said grief counselors are available, especially to the roommates of Gross. She said the roommates are being moved to another dorm.

Many students declined to comment about Gross or his death. Some said they had been told by their resident assistants not to comment to the media.

His family could not be reached for comment.

Orstein declined to comment on the allegations of drug use. He said he remained friends with Gross after he left the swim team. He said the young man became an avid weight-lifter and bulked up considerably.

"He was a really big person," Orstein said. "And really the best way to describe him is he was just a gentle giant of a man."

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