No charges forthcoming in Garza case

By Adam Silverman

Free Press Staff Writer

Authorities have found no evidence to warrant criminal charges in the case of Nick Garza, a Middlebury College student who vanished and drowned in February, police said Wednesday, three months after searchers found the freshman's body.
Garza, 19, of Albuquerque, N.M., used a fake ID to buy alcohol Feb. 3, and the transaction was captured on surveillance cameras, Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said. Garza brought the drinks to share with five friends during a dorm-room gathering two nights later, the last time he was seen, Hanley said.

Search dogs tracked Garza's scent on a winding path from Stewart Hall to Otter Creek, where investigators believe the inebriated student missed a sharp turn onto a footbridge and fell into the icy water, Hanley said.

"There's absolutely no evidence of anything criminal here," the chief said. "We'll never be able to say definitively that he did precisely this, this and this, because there are no witnesses, but there's nothing factual we've found that conflicts with anything."

Addison County State's Attorney John Quinn said he reviewed the case with investigators and agreed with their assessment. Neither charges nor an inquest is necessary, Quinn said.
"I did not see any indication of foul play," Quinn said. "The Middlebury Police Department's investigation was thorough and complete."Alcohol-related charges are unlikely, too, because Garza provided the booze, Quinn said.

"Unfortunately, it seems we had an intoxicated Middlebury College student who walked off that night and fell into the creek and died," he said.An autopsy and report from the Medical Examiner's Office could not determine the cause and manner of Garza's death, Quinn said.
The student's mother requested a second opinion, Hanley said, and the "very, very thorough" report has been forwarded to Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist. Hanley declined to release additional information, such as the state's medical findings or the location of the alcohol purchase, until Baden's work is complete, likely within a month.

Garza's last known location was outside Stewart Hall, across campus from his own residence hall, as he left the Feb. 5 gathering just past 11 p.m. He wore sneakers but no coat despite cold weather; a snowstorm began early the next morning. His cell phone stopped working within eight hours of his disappearance.

Friends first thought Garza might have left campus for the final days of winter break, but when he didn't return, his family reported him missing. Relatives flew to Vermont to oversee the search, which unfolded over months rather than days or hours as loved ones and the Middlebury College community had hoped.

Investigators, pursuing the theory Garza was in Otter Creek, were preparing to remove a large pile of logs and other debris from the water May 27 when they discovered human remains. Dental records confirmed the body was that of Garza.

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