Indian Pond

"Indian Pond" or "Campus Pond" is small concrete-bottomed body of water on the State University of New York at Albany's main campus, fed by storm drainage water, used primarily for the irrigation of SUNY Albany's athletics fields.  It has had a troubled history of pollution and the deaths not just of fish but of a SUNY Albany student.

Hazing kills, SUNY Albany, April 21, 1988

At 6:15 PM, a wide receiver on the SUNY Albany football team, as part of a fraternity hazing ritual, stripped to his underwear and entered the cold, murky, polluted body of runoff water filled with metal debris called "Indian Pond" and was electrocuted to death in front of twelve other pledges and ten fraternity brothers.  The recent pledges were "invited" to "wash away any non-TKE qualities" by jumping into the murky, polluted, debris-filled (and electrified) body of runoff water, allegedly only after they'd been told they'd been accepted as members.  Two others being hazed by the same act were hospitalized.

That the pond had a history of growing polluted and filling with trash had been known since the 1970s at least.  For a time it had been monitored regularly.  That the pond had been electrified was also known: "at least two students suspected electricity was in [Indian Pond]."

"Two days before the accident, a physics student who though[t] he had gotten a shock from the water had sought a voltage meter to test it, but when he couldn't obtain one 'forgot about it and went about his business,' said James Williams, campus director of Public Safety.

"The student never told anyone why he wanted the meter, added Williams.  SUNYA spokesman Vincent Sweeney said the student had approached a physics graduate-level student to borrow the meter, but Williams would not confirm this.

"Williams said his department found no proof of a claim made after the accident by another student that he had told a campus groundskeeper about electricity in the water the previous week.  "We have a sworn statement from the groundskeeper that he didn't hear that,' said Williams.  'It's possible both statements are correct'" (Nearing "Report Says 2 Students Knew").

The cause of the pond becoming electrified was believed to have involved a junction box that had been "inexplicably pulled out" and current running through an underground line from the physical education building which had been inexplicably sheared:

"A large junction box connecting ["an underground cable that is buried about five feet below ground to supply power for a pumping station"] and others feeding the underground pumping station was inexplicably pulled out from the outer wall about a half-inch, creating the tear in the line [...] which was installed when the campus was built in 1964" (Nearing "Report Says 2 Students Knew").

"An engineering expert who analyzed an electrical pump house at the State University at Albany - the same underground pumping system that figured in last week's electrocution death of a student - suggested Friday that there may have been problems with the system's design.

"David Gisser, a retired Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute engineering professor, was retained by SUNYA administrators last week to study the technical circumstances surrounding the April 21 death of Bryan Higgins. A 20- year-old sophomore from Putnam County, Higgins was electrocuted when he waded into Indian Lake that evening during a fraternity ritual. Asked at a news conference Friday whether he would design a pump house the same way as the one constructed in 1964 about 15 yards from the Indian Lake shoreline, Gisser said, 'I certainly would not.'

"Gisser refused to identify the design problems, noting that questions about the design could impinge on legal matters SUNYA may have to address. [...]

"[Dennis Stevens, the school's assistant vice president and physical-plant director] said the current that ran to the pump house came from the physical-education building, about 1,000 feet east of the pond, flowing through an underground line.

"Accident investigators also found a shear in the conduit carrying the cable to the pump house, but the role of that shear, if any, in the mishap was not immediately clear, Stevens said" (Mahoney, "Pump-house design").

SUNY Albany Director of Campus Relations Vincent Sweeney had stated that it was not hazing, but a prank, and that it "could have happened under any circumstances" (Lanning).  Furthermore, "School officials have said the incident did not constitute hazing because no coercion was involved" (Toczylowski).  SUNY Albany professor and Albany County District Attorney Sol Greenberg stated the fatal fraternity hazing involved "some of the best-behaved students in the state" and that it was "just tragic that this had to happen" (Lanning) despite other better-behaved students in the state not engaging in such a hazing ritual, and the fatal hazing ritual in fact being something that didn't have to happen at all.

SUNY Albany football coach Bob Ford stated that the fatally electrocuted football player's last wish was for UAlbany football to recruit his younger brother John:

"Ford recalled a talk he had with Bryan Higgins last fall, a routine review of his performance during the season.

"'Rather than talk about himself, he wanted to talk about his brother, John,' Ford said. 'He wanted to make sure we recruited his brother'" (Toczylowski).

Ford's sharing that alleged last wish was rather in bad taste, putting extra pressure on the brother to join the SUNY Albany football team.  Ford's role model for his own behavior is not the best role model for a coach to have:

"I heard Joe Paterno say, ‘You hire good people, give them a job to do, and don’t look over their shoulders all the time.’ I’d say that’s the way I approach my staff."

Clearly the employees in charge of the body of water used to irrigate the athletics fields, electrified by current from the athletics building, that resulted in the electrocution of an athlete, could have used a bit more looking over their shoulders.  Athletes, too, could have used some more looking over their shoulders, given their willing participation in hazing rituals.

"A community as a whole becomes identified with a college or a university that exists within its boundaries. Penn State, as an example, has a community that identifies with that institution. So I think that the City of Albany will eventually identify with the University at Albany, and our intercollegiate athletics program will probably be a source of pride for the city."

“Bob Ford on Division I: Community and Campus Pride.” Albany Magazine. 

Indian Pond continually runs a high risk of being contaminated by perennial pollution sources, and spreading the University at Albany's pollution to the Krumkill and the Hudson River:

"Many of you may not be aware that on the University's Uptown Campus, the majority of our storm water catch basins, located on our roadways and parking lots, collect stormwater that ultimately ends up in Indian Pond. It is then pumped from Indian Pond and used to irrigate our athletic fields. When too much stormwater gets to Indian Pond, a spillway directs the overflow, via an underground culvert, to the Krumkill and ultimately to the Hudson River. [...]

"Any substance, such as motor oil, anti-freeze, brake or transmission fluid, gasoline, etc. which can pollute our waterways, could ultimately get to the Hudson River if it enters the storm water catch basins on our roadways and parking lots.

"If you spill or leak motor oil, anti-freeze, brake or transmission fluid, gasoline, etc. from your vehicle, contact the University's Office of Environmental Health and Safety at 442-3495 or the University Power Plant 24 hour emergency line at 442-3444" ("Stormwater Pollution").


Carragee, Eugene, The Effects of Rotenone treatment on Algae Growth in the Campus Pond, 1974

Carragee, Gene. "From the Frog's Mouth: Know the Pond." Albany Student Press 62(7). February 14, 1975: 10 cols 3-4.

"Cuomo Gets Bill Banning Campus Hazing." Gazette. May 12, 1988. 14 col 3.,2657790

D'Ambrosio, Mary and Bruce A. Scruton. "Current source sought in death at SUNYA pond." Albany Times Union. April 22, 1988: A1.

D'Ambrosio, Mary. "SUNYA student dies in accident; fraternity stunt blamed." Albany Times Union. April 22, 1988: A1.

De Mare, Carol. "Court upholds electrocution award." Albany Times Union. April 16, 1993: B3.

"EDC Seeks to Avert Death of Campus Pond." Albany Student Press 60(2). January 23, 1973: 1 cols 1-5.

"Electrocuted SUNYA student euologized." Albany Times Union. April 27, 1988: D9.

Fairhall, John. "Student sheds light on campus pond." Albany Student Press 59(39). October 20, 1972: 1 cols 1-5, 12.

"Faulty Cable Linked to Electrocution Death." N.Y. Times. April 24, 1988.

Hammond, Mark and Madelyn Kelstein. "Indian Pond Dumping Ground for Trash, Toxins." Albany Student Press 69(22). May 7, 1982: 1 cols 1-5.

Horwitz, Doug. "PYE Plans Environmental Action at SUNYA." Albany Student Press 60(44). November 20, 1973: 4 cols 1-5.

Kleiman, Dena. "Student, 20, Electrocuted In Albany Campus Pond." N.Y. Times. April 23, 1988.

Kottmann, John and Susan Abell. "Albany Pledge Electrocuted Dies in Pond." Plattsburgh Cardinal Points 20(23). April 28, 1988. 1 col 1-2.

Lanning, Rick. "College student electrocuted in fraternity prank." Weekly World News 9(34). May 31, 1988. 17.

Lerner, David. "Lake Being Restored After Ten Month Wait." Albany Student Press 60(27). September 11, 1973: 1 cols 1-5.

Mahoney, Joe and Alan Llavore. "SUNYA cancels fraternity inductions; move follows student's electrocution in campus pond." Albany Times Union. April 24, 1988.

Mahoney, Joe. "Pump-house design suspect in SUNYA death." Albany Times Union. April 30, 1988: A1.

Nearing, Brian. "Student's Electrocution Forces SUNYA Office To Halt Frat Pledges." Gazette. April 23, 1988. 17 cols 5-6,6184686

Nearing, Brian. "Candles in the Night for Brian; Students Gather for Campus Vigil." Gazette. April 23, 1988. 17 cols 1-3.,6184686

Nearing, Brian. "Report Says 2 Students Knew About Electrified Pond on SUNY Campus." Gazette. April 30, 1988. 17 cols 5-6.,7954377

"Pond hazard unknown." Albany Times Union. April 29, 1988: A1.

Raliff, Mike. "'Mysterious White Mist' Pollutes Indian Pond." Albany Student Press 69(18). April 20, 1982: 1 cols 1-5.

Selwyn, Gary, An Undergraduate Research Study of chemical Pollution in the Campus Pond,1972

"Stormwater Pollution Prevention." Office of Campus Planning.  University at Albany. 2011.

Tocczylowski, Toni. "Buried cable blamed for electrocution; SUNYA officials probe why student was wading." Albany Times Union. April 24, 1988: B1.