Student's death should serve as safety reminder

Saturday, December 2, 2006

"I truly feel for everyone who never got to meet or get to know Ryan," said Aaron McGuire, at the memorial for his Phi Kappa Tau fraternity brother, Ryan Stewart of Ord.

Stewart's friends remember him as good-natured, easy with a smile, and someone who drew people together without drawing attention to himself.

His room in the Nebrska Wesleyan University was always full of friends enjoying his company, another said.

But that all ended two weeks ago, when a fire broke out in the fraternity house, killing Stewart and sending others to the hospital, some in critical condition.

A laptop computer was first suspected of starting the fire, since thousands of laptop computer batteries have been recalled for just that problem, but investigators haven't confirmed that idea.

They also caution against drawing conclusions from the fireworks that were confiscated from the house, and which were reportedly set off earlier that night.

A fellow fraternity member reported returning home about 4 a.m. and finding Stewart in his room with a burning futon, telling him to leave and then running out after pulling a fire alarm.

It's tragic when such a promising life is cut short, and fortunate more young men were not lost in the fire.

And it's a reminder of just how thin the line between fun and disaster can be. Fraternities are notorious for pushing the boundaries, and the Phi Kappa Tau case is one example that somehow went tragically out of control.

Holidays are good times for social and family gatherings, that may or may not involve alcohol. At the same time, our homes are decorated with candles, electric lights and other potential fire hazards.

Perhaps Ryan Stewart's death will not be in vain if it reminds us how precious life is and how we need to take every possible precaution to prevent a senseless disaster.

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