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PSU student's death in fall ruled accidental

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 7:29 a.m.

The death of a Penn State University student from Unity found in a campus stairwell Monday has been ruled accidental, the Centre County Coroner's Office reported.

Joseph Dado, 18, a freshman engineering student, died of head trauma, Coroner Scott Sayers said.

Dado's body was found about 6 p.m. at the bottom of a stairwell near the entrance to the mechanical room of Hosler Building. Campus officials had been searching for Dado since Sunday morning, after worried friends and family reported him missing when he didn't return to his dorm room after leaving a fraternity house alone about 3 a.m. Sunday.

The fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, is located about 75 yards from where Dado's body was found.

Sayers said Dado apparently had climbed a five- or six-foot wall to access a lower roof that connects the Hosler and Steidle buildings. He fell off a ledge and into an exterior stairwell about 17 feet below.

"I'm not sure how familiar he was with where he was at. He was up on a roof where he shouldn't have been," Sayers said. "He probably became confused in the nighttime and just slipped off the edge."

Sayers said interviews conducted by university police indicated that neither foul play nor suicide caused Dado's death.

Sayers said it is not clear whether Dado was drinking before his fall. Toxicology tests will take several weeks to be completed, he said.

Authorities have said Dado left his residence hall with three other male students about 11:30 p.m. Saturday. The group first visited Alpha Tau Omega fraternity then left for Phi Gamma Delta, known as Fiji, at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday.

Dado was last seen at that fraternity about 3 a.m. Friends and family became concerned when he failed to return to his dorm room or return phone calls or e-mails.

University spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said university police continue to investigate Dado's death. Asked whether the fraternities where Dado spent his last hours are being investigated, Houtz said "that's probably part of the police investigation."

Wynn Smiley, chief executive officer of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity based in Indianapolis, said Dado came to tour the house at Penn State with some friends. He said there was no official event happening at the chapter house that night.

"We have no reason to believe at this time that Mr. Dado consumed any alcohol while he was visiting the ATO chapter house," Smiley said.

Representatives of Phi Gamma Delta, as well as the university's Interfraternity Council, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A friend of Dado's, Eric Hayes, who was with Dado that night, told The Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper, that Dado had been drinking alcohol, but not enough to require medical attention.

Hayes did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. Other friends of Dado, including his roommate, declined to comment, saying they weren't ready to talk about Dado or his death.

Meanwhile, some students at Greater Latrobe Senior High School, where Dado was a 2009 graduate, sought solace at Charter Oak Church in Unity.

The Rev. Chris Whitehead, senior pastor, said about 30-40 young people and their parents came to the church Monday night to pray and talk about their loss.

"They just needed to just come and mourn together and lean on each other," Whitehead said. "We gave them an opportunity that they could write down anything they were feeling or thinking and put it in a basket and give that up to God. It seems that the students that were here left with a little bit less of a burden on their shoulders."

Whitehead was at the high school yesterday morning to let students know the church was available and open for anyone to come and talk for as long as they need.

The Dado family, including parents Denise and Joe and their three daughters, have attended services at the church, and Whitehead was one of the younger Joe Dado's soccer coaches.

Whitehead said Dado was a "great kid," whom students looked up to as a leader and whom parents thought of as a good person for their children to be friends with.

He said he's been asked the question, "Why?," many times since Dado's death.

"I tell them that there's no easy, simple answers that I believe that this is not what God wants, but we live in a world where things happen and it hurts, and it hurts more when it's somebody who's of good moral character like Joey," Whitehead said. "It makes people hurt more and deeper when it happens that way."

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