Share this article

print logo

STUDENT DEATHS 'ISOLATED', BUT PROBE PROCEEDS

Despite early indications that the unexpected deaths of two Niagara University students five months apart were a coincidence, the families still want answers.

Katherine Gurbacki, 18, of Williamsville, a freshman in the College of Hospitality & Tourism Management, died March 20.

Tara Laurie, 20, of Lewiston, a senior in the same program, who also majored in theater studies, collapsed and died Oct. 25 while rehearsing for a play.

The state Department of Health said a week ago it would investigate the deaths because of the "unexpected nature of the circumstances."

Preliminary findings in Gurbacki's death indicate "the case appears isolated in nature and that there is no public health concern," spokeswoman Kim Volean said Friday.

The state did not base its findings on the cause of death, which hasn't been released, said Kevin Montgomery, a spokesman for the Erie County Department of Health. Toxicology results could take up to six weeks, he said.

"Nothing can bring Katie back. At this point we're concerned about anything happening to anyone else," Katherine's father, Robert Gurbacki, an Aurora attorney, said Friday.

Both young women had health problems when they were young -- Laurie in her heart and Gurbacki in her liver -- but grew up to lead healthy, vibrant lives, family members said.

Robert Gurbacki said doctors told him his daughter's death was not a result of her liver condition.

His daughter lived on the Niagara University campus in Lewiston. Laurie lived on campus when she first began the course and later moved back home with her parents in Ransomville.

Death and illness caused by mold in old buildings at other colleges have raised concerns among the family members.

"It's too much of a coincidence," said Laurie's grandmother, Margaret S. Laurie of Lewiston. "Here you have two healthy girls who suddenly became fatally ill, perhaps from an infection in the area. There's something going on."

Mold in the crawl spaces of six student apartment buildings at Niagara University delayed the opening of a new student housing complex in 2002. The mold problem was eradicated at that time, university spokesman Linus Ormsby said Friday.

The state Health Department investigation is continuing. Volean said she was unaware of the 2002 mold problem at Niagara University, or if it has so far been taken into account during the current probe.

Katherine Gurbacki came home early from classes at Niagara University on the Friday before she died because she was feeling sick, said her mother, Mary Ann.

Saturday she had planned to go car shopping with her father, her mother said.

"When I left to go out she was at the kitchen table eating cereal," she said. "She said she was feeling tired and had a cold."

Things went downhill fast from there.

The young woman was placed on a respirator at 2 p.m.; she went into cardiac arrest and died shortly after midnight.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment