Crime & Public Safety

20-year-old collapses and dies while drinking at frat event held on Hilton Head, police say

A 20-year-old Furman University student was drinking at a fraternity event on Hilton Head Island when she collapsed and died early Saturday morning, a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report says.

The report says Caroline Smith, of Atlanta, was talking with her boyfriend in a backroom of a warehouse, where the event was held, when she said she did not feel well.

“Moments later (the boyfriend) advised she fell to the ground and was unresponsive,” the report says.

Smith’s boyfriend yelled for help and began CPR, the report says.

EMS worked on Smith for several minutes before pronouncing her dead. The report says the 911 call was made at 11:58 p.m. Friday.

Multiple people interviewed by police said drugs were not involved, but each noted that guests had been drinking.

Smith’s older brother also was at the event and told police he was not aware of any medical issues his sister might have had.

The warehouse at 5 Enterprise Lane still had yellow tape around it Monday morning.

Deputies and Town of Hilton Head Island officials also were on the scene.

“The Sheriff’s Office is investigating circumstances surrounding her death and whether alcohol was obtained by underage persons,” Maj. Bob Bromage said Monday.

Per South Carolina law, when a person under 21 dies in an accident where alcohol is suspected, a local law enforcement agency with jurisdiction must “commence a detailed investigation to determine the circumstances under which the beverage was obtained.”

An autopsy was performed by the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston Monday but “the cause of death and manner of death is pending per further analysis,” Beaufort County deputy coroner David Ott said.

Vince Moore, Furman University director of media relations, said Kappa Alpha fraternity’s spring formal was scheduled for Saturday night on Hilton Head. He said the formal was canceled following Smith’s death.

“She was well known on campus and liked,” Moore said. “The campus is affected by the loss. It is grieving and we are trying to begin the healing process.”

The Friday night event “was not an official part of the formal,” Moore said.

Smith, along with Kappa Alpha chapter members and other Furman students, were at the Friday night event organized by the university’s chapter of Kappa Alpha, Jesse Lyons, the national fraternity’s assistant executive director for Advancement, said in an emailed statement Monday.

“Kappa Alpha Order and the members of the Furman Chapter are devastated by the heartbreaking loss of Caroline Smith,” Lyons said in the email. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, which includes several KA’s, friends and Kappa Delta sorority sisters.”

The national organization is coordinating and cooperating with the university and authorities, Lyons said. He said it also is coordinating with the university to provide counseling resources for members and to support memorials for Smith.

Smith was a history and communication studies major. She also was a member of the university’s Kappa Delta chapter.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Zeta Pi-Furman sister Caroline Smith,” the sorority’s national organization posted on Facebook Monday. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends and our KD sisters. You are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”