WEST LAFAYETTE -- A body found in a high voltage utility room Monday afternoon in a dorm at Purdue University was determined to be that of missing Purdue student Wade Steffey. According to a coroner’s report released Tuesday, Steffey was killed by high voltage electrocution.
The discovery of Steffey, a Bloomington native, comes more than two months after his disappearance and massive volunteer search efforts on campus and throughout Tippecanoe County. Steffey was last seen by friends at a Phi Theta Kappa fraternity party in the early morning hours of Jan. 13.
Steffey, according to police, was trying to find a way into Owen Hall to retrieve his jacket which was left in a friend’s room before leaving to go to the party. He called two other friends to try and get access into the building, but was unsuccessful.
“He couldn’t get into the hall because he didn’t have a passkey,” said Jeanne Norberg, Purdue spokeswoman at a press conference Tuesday. “So he was trying doors and found this room.”
Steffey then proceeded to go into the utility room, Norberg said, which was not marked as a high voltage room and was unlocked. It is then, the coroner’s office believes, that Steffey attempted to find his way around the pitch-dark room using his hands. He then tripped, fell and is believed to have died instantaneously when his finger touched a 2400 volt wire attached to a transformer.
“Actually, these transformers, you can touch them almost anywhere except for the one spot where the wire comes into the transformer and there’s just a small enough space for really just one finger to get there,” Dale Steffey, Wade’s father, said. “But in his blind groping in that room he touched that one spot.”
Steffey’s body was found after a student reported a noise coming from the high-voltage room, Norberg said. A utility worker then proceeded to open the locked door, discovering an odor and Steffey’s body. The room was located directly across from the dorm’s laundry room.
According to the Journal & Courier, maintenance was last performed in the high-voltage room where Steffey was found in June 2006.
Steffey was last seen trying to enter Owen Hall, according to police. The entrance was 50 yards from where his body was found, Norberg said.
Dale Steffey said he received the phone call about his son being found from Purdue Police Chief Gary Evans between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Monday. Dale Steffey said police told him they could not confirm it was Wade at the time, but did tell him the shirt on the body was similar to the shirt Wade was described as wearing the night of his disappearance.
“I said ‘How you doing chief?’ and he said, ‘I’m not doing very good right now, Dale’ and he told me what he told me,” Dale Steffey said. “I reached out to touch Dawn when I realized who it was and why he was calling.”
Immediately after the phone call, Steffey and Dawn Adams, Wade Steffey’s mother, packed their clothes and drove to Purdue.
“We didn’t have to speed up there at 85 miles an hour like we did the first night because we knew what was going to be waiting for us,” Dale Steffey said.
Dale Steffey said legal action was something being considered against Purdue but would not be pursued immediately.
“We tried to raise Wade to be a responsible young man,” he said. “That’s one of our strong beliefs that people need to own responsibility for their own actions.”
Kelli Keller, Dale Steffey’s niece, is now the family spokesperson and is also their lawyer based out of Indianapolis.
“I think it’s actually premature determining whether or not there’s going to be any sort of legal action,” Keller said. “We just want to make sure we want to find as many answers as possible.”
Wade Steffey is survived by his grandparents, Wallace and Nicolina Adams, his half-sister Brooke Baker, his half-niece Layla Baker and eight aunts and uncles.
Funeral services will be held at Allen Funeral Home,3000 E. Third St. Steffey said he and his wife Dawn are to hold a closed-casket service for their son and will announce the date and time sometime today.
“Now our searching can cease and everyone else who is thinking and praying for us can have a measure of peace,” she said.
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