Police Say Accident, mom says son was murdered

Rosencrance Article

Since Adam's death, I have worked with several wonderful people who have helped me to navigate through the legal and political system. I first met Linda Rosencrance, Boston journalist, in the Spring of 1998. After listening to me talk about the frustrations I'd experienced in attempting to get Adam's records, she vowed to help and, to this day, she has remained actively involved.

Linda wrote the following article for Community Newspaper Company in September, 1998.   She is currently a journalist at Computerworld.  If you would like to share your thoughts with someone objective who isn't a family member, Linda can be reached at: Linda_Rosencrance@computerworld.com

Please note there is an underscore between her first and last name "_". Linda is currently writing a book about campus crime and "insecurity" on college campuses.  Adam's case is the catalyst that piqued her awareness.


  Police say accident, mom says son was murdered

Story by Linda Rosencrance a staff writer for the
Herald Media - Community Newspaper Company.

Adam Prentice left for his junior year at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst on Sept. 2, 1997. The Centerville resident, and a computer systems Engineering student, had earned a perfect 4.0 in his first two years and had high expectations about his future.

Three weeks later, he came back to Cape Cod in a body bag. He was 21 years old.

There is no mystery about what killed him. An eight-inch shard of glass, entering through his lower back, punctured his renal artery, sliced into his stomach and caused him to bleed to death.

But questions remain about how he received this mortal injury. And questions remain about how the local authorities responded in the early morning of Saturday, Sept. 27, 1997 as the young man's life flickered out. Conflicts and inconsistencies in the official record, as well as new evidence that clashes with the origional report, haunt Barbara Prentice, who remains convinced one year later that the whole story of just how and why her oldest son died has never been told. Among the issues Prentice wants to resolve are:

Police would later speculate that Prentice had climbed up on the low roof of one of the greenhouses, fallen through, walked along a connecting hallway and then broken out through the wall of the next greenhouse. They surmised that he picked up the glass spear as he fell. The reason why a hard-working straight-arrow student climbed up on the greenhouse on his way home in the middle of the night? Campus police suspected alcohol. They arrested him as he lay on the ground in a white T-shirt soaked dark red with his blood on charges of malicious destruction. His blood was later tested, and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, which means that he had approximately five to six drinks in the previous hour.

But what Barbara Prentice wants to know is why did the police — instead of securing the scene for an investigation — call the school's department of Environmental Health and Safety and the superintendent of the greenhouses and order the site cleaned up. And she wants to know why the university scrambled a team to sweep up, scrub down and repair the broken greenhouses within 90 minutes of the incident, completing the task by 2:56 a.m. "The police never did a real investigation," she said. "They didn't test the blood in the greenhouse to see if it was his. They didn't test the glass to see if it came from the greenhouse. They didn't test his clothes to see if they contained pieces of glass."

The university police said the investigation remains open. "The police never asked for witnesses to come forward," she said. They never investigated anything. Although they issued a statement the next morning asking for any information, they also stated they believed Adam was alone. I think he was murdered. Someone knows what happened to him. All I want is the truth about what happened."

Prentice's last hours

This much is undisputed. Adam Prentice had been at an off-campus party celebrating Homecoming with friends. But he said he was tired and wanted to go back to his dorm, his friends later told police. They didn't want Prentice to leave by himself. They worried he might not be safe walking alone across the dark campus. But no one else was ready to go yet. "At around 11:45 Adam got up from where he was sitting and said he wanted to leave," classmate Daniel Tatosian wrote in a statement to the police. "I walked him outside and away from everyone," Tatosian wrote. "I asked him if he was all-right, he said fine, he was tired and wanted to go home. I asked him to stay, he didn't want to. He was under the influence, but stood straight. He left around 12:00."

From that point on, the record blurs. It is unclear, for example, when and under what circumstances the police responded to whatever it was that happened at the greenhouses. According to the official record, they answered the alarm that was set off at the Morrill Science Center. However, a former university student told this reporter that she was driving past the greenhouses and saw two people she believes to be campus police officers. They were chasing a young white male. Could the man have been Adam Prentice? "I just want to know if the police were chasing my son," said Barbara Prentice. "Did he walk into something like a drug deal?"

The police have declined to discuss the reported chase and Michael Goggins, first district attorney for the region, also stated, in a letter, that no such chase occurred. The student said she would not talk to campus police for fear of retribution but would be willing to speak to the district attorney. However, other records make it clear that police were in the area at the time. That fact is recorded in both the Amherst Police log and in the campus police log, which both reported that they had assisted Massachusetts State Police with a drug related incident close to the greenhouses less than 15 minutes before the alarm was sounded. And they were still nearby when that incident was concluded one minute before the door to the greenhouse was opened.

So were police present at the time Adam Prentice was injured? Police Chief John Luippold has declined to comment.

Medical Questions

The second mystery concerns the medical treatment Adam Prentice received. In their reports, campus police said they observed glass in Prentice's wound, and that they told the Amherst Fire Department's EMT's about it. But the EMT's own reports state that campus police told them Prentice "may have broken a window and cut himself." That appears to have influenced their decision to take the patient to Cooley Dickinson, rather than to Bay State Medical Center in Springfield, which is a designated trauma center. Medical records at Cooley Dickinson indicate that it took doctors 45 minutes to discover the glass imbedded in Prentice's stomach. And the discovery was made not from a probe of the wound but from an X-ray taken of his lungs. A university officer named D. Ortiz went with Prentice to the hospital, but there is no indication that Ortiz ever told any of the medical personnel that glass was imbedded in Prentice's wound.

At 3:15 a.m., after the glass has been discovered and doctors prepared to send him to Bay State Medical Center, he went into cardiac arrest. He was stabilized and rushed into the ambulance. On the way, he went into full cardiac arrest for the second time as a result of massive internal bleeding. He died at Bay State at 4:07 a.m. He never received a blood transfusion.

Information about this part of the story is scarce. Campus Police Chief Luippold would not comment, and neither would Amherst Fire Chief Victor Zumbruski. Mark Correia, the paramedic who picked up Prentice at the greenhouses, was reached in Washington, where he is on a leave of absence from the Amherst Fire Department. He also declined to comment on the incident.

A third mystery Barbara Prentice wants to resolve is the role of alcohol in her son's death. When she called the campus a year ago to find out what happened to her son, she said the first thing the police chief said to her was to ask if she was aware that her son had a history of alcohol abuse. "I will never forgive him for that," she said.

In fact, Adam Prentice did not have a history of alcohol abuse. She rejected the suggestion, and was bewildered at the emphasis the police gave to the fact that her son had had a few drinks at a party earlier in the evening.

She was not the only person baffled by the emphasis placed on alcohol; so is a witness questioned in the police report. After Adam Prentice died, campus police went to his dorm to interview several friends who had been with him at the off-campus party described earlier. One of those friends, Kelly Lincicum, now a sophomore at the university, said recently that police distorted her original statement. The police report reads in part: "Ms. Lincicum said that friends had gone to Hobart Lane and then Pufton Village between 11:00-12:30 and that Adam was very drunk." "Their interpretation is messed up," Lincicum said. "All they wanted to do was talk about Adam's drinking habits. After they interviewed me they wrote in their reports that I said he was drinking a lot. But I didn't say that in my statement. I said I didn't see him drinking after 10 p.m. on Friday night."

Searching for a witness through a haze of conflicting testimony and incomplete details, Barbara Prentice is hunting for someone who can stitch the facts together and tell her what happened to her son. Although police have insisted that no witnesses were present -- neither police officers themselves nor passersby -- evidence obtained suggests a witness may, in fact, have been present near the Morrill Science Center the morning of Sept. 27. The police log from that day notes an E911 call bracketed with the recorded information about an intrusion in the greenhouse. That was a piece of information Barbara Prentice said was never given to her. "I've asked and I've asked Chief Luippold if there were any 911 calls," she said. "He told me there weren't any."

When the police were questioned about the reference to the call -- which suggests an eyewitness who saw something troubling enough to spark an emergency call that would have been taped as a matter of course and that can be traced to the phone used to make the call -- they declined to comment. A subsequent request for a transcript of the call and the location it was made from, which is public information according to the terms of the state's Freedom of Information Act, was denied by the police who wrote that the investigation into the death of Adam Prentice remains open and therefore they were not obligated to respond.

"I need the truth," said Barbara Prentice. "My son's memory deserves the truth. While everyone else's world continues, my world will always be frozen on Sept. 27, 1997."


Item posted with permission of the Community Newspaper Company HTML hand-coded by Ed Cutting, all errors of transcription are unintentional. Posted 9-30-98 by EdC