Local News

Freshman Back At UNC After Surviving Dorm Fall

Posted September 12, 2006

— Freshman Tyler Downey blends in with all the other students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And that's exactly the way the 19-year-old from Asheville wants it.

"I don't really want to be known as the kid who fell out of the window last year," he says.

Last February, Downey and his friend, sophomore Keith Smith, crashed through the third-floor window of Stacy Dorm and landed on a concrete ramp outside the basement laundry room. Smith, a 20-year-old resident assistant from Greensboro, died.

Downey doesn't remember the accident, just the moments before it. Friends have filled in the blanks.

"We had a basketball hoop in the room," he says. "We were playing horse, roughing around and ended up running down the hall."

University officials said Smith and Downey were racing each other down a carpeted hallway. But at the end of the hallway, the stairwell door was propped open where the carpet ended and the tile began.

"We both raced down the hallway, and I made it through the doorway, then slipped on the tile," Downey says. "And Keith bumped into me. Neither of us could catch ourselves, and we went through the window."

A few days later, Downey awoke in UNC Hospitals in critical condition with leg, neck and shoulder injuries -- and no idea that his friend had died.

"Up to that point, no one had said anything," says Downey. "So, I just thought it was just me who'd gone out the window. So, that just made it that much worse."

The UNC community grieved and struggled to understand the loss. Counselors were on hand to help affected students cope. The university investigated the accident and ended up placing metal barriers on the hallway windows and has plans to do so in other dorms on campus.

Downey, who left school and spent the next eight months recovering, admits he thought about not returning. Friends are glad he did.

"I didn't think I'd be hanging out with him," says friend Skylar Momberger. "It's a blessing."

Downey and his friends don't talk too much about what happened. He says they're too busy doing what counts -- enjoying life.

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