HED: Ole Miss officer’s death points finger at culture of alcohol’

READ-IN: Robert Langley died while trying to arrest a University of Mississippi student who had alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in his system.

By Errol Castens

and Leesha Faulkner

Daily Journal

OXFORD – The “culture of alcohol” took a beating in this university town after the Oct. 21 death of a campus police officer.

Robert Langley had survived the battlefields of the Middle East to return home and die when the pickup driven by Ole Miss freshman Daniel Reed Cummings took off at a traffic stop with Langley hanging on. A videotape of the incident shows the truck swerving and Langley falling to the pavement and ultimately to his death from head injuries.

Even before toxicology reports showed Cummings had alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in his system, both public and private speculations ran rampant that a permissive attitude toward alcohol – and possibly illegal drugs – had contributed to the tragedy.

Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat acknowledged the university was “hypocritical” in winking at widespread alcohol consumption by both students and visitors, especially in the context of football games, despite state law that prohibits such consumption on public campuses.

In the wake of Langley’s death and Cummings’ arrest, Khayat appointed a task force led by Tupelo physician Ed Hill, a national expert on youth alcohol abuse, to recommend ways to combat high-risk and illegal use of alcohol and drugs among Ole Miss students. The task force has focused much attention on what is working at other universities and will report its recommendations in January.

A similar task force at Mississippi State University finished its work in November, recommending more education, tougher enforcement and changing expectations about students’ behavior.

And the fate of 20-year-old Cummings likely will be placed in the hands of 12 jurors later in 2007. Cummings remains in jail, charged with capital murder.

While acknowledging that substance abuse is a problem on nearly all college campuses, many Oxford-area residents are eager to help change what Alderman Pat Patterson and others have termed “a culture of alcohol.”

First Baptist Church issued a call to prayer and other action on its Web site.

“With numerous alcohol-related deaths and injuries, flagrant drunken debauchery both on campus and off, and a general sense of desensitization toward conditions of moral indecency, many members of our community have been asking ‘When will enough be enough?'”

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