A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student found in a ditch Sunday after leaving a local bar had a preliminary 0.21 percent alcohol level, authorities said today.
An autopsy done today in Madison on Neala Frye revealed the 23-year-old died of hypothermia secondary to intoxication, La Crosse County Medical Examiner John Steers said.
Final toxicology results could take weeks.
Onalaska Police Chief Jeff Trotnic said authorities did not suspect foul play but called in the state Division of Criminal Investigation to help with the case.
An Onalaska police officer found Frye’s body in a ditch adjacent to the railroad tracks bordering the Black River about 300 yards south of where Irvin Street ends about 8:40 p.m. Sunday.
Police and Frye’s friends spent the day searched for the university senior after she failed to show for her shift at Menards.
Frye spent Saturday night at the Spillway Pub, 209 Irvin St., for a promotional event for Body and Sol Tanning where she also worked.
Surveillance video from the bar shows Frye leaving the tavern alone about 1 a.m. and a motorist saw a woman authorities believe was Frye walking across Second Avenue South toward the river between 1:30 and 2 a.m., Trotnic said.
Frye’s friends wouldn’t speculate on what led to her death, but insisted it would uncharacteristic for her to get drunk at an unfamiliar bar without her friends, especially while working.
Here's an earlier version of this story:
ONALASKA — An autopsy today should determine what killed a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student found in a ditch Sunday evening after leaving a local bar.
Authorities do not believe foul play is involved in Neala Frye’s death, even as Onalaska police called in the state Department of Criminal Investigation to help with the case.
Police suspect she died of alcohol and hypothermia. But her friends insist the normally reliable 23-year-old couldn’t be so irresponsible.
“There’s no way,” said her friend, Katherine Buening. “That’s not her.”
An officer found Frye’s body in a ditch adjacent to the railroad tracks bordering the Black River about 300 yards south of where Irvin Street ends.
Investigators are trying to piece together Frye’s final moments and have asked the public for help.
She spent Saturday night at the Spillway Pub, 209 Irvin St., for a promotional event for Body and Sol Tanning where she worked.
Surveillance video from the bar shows Frye leaving the tavern alone about 1 a.m., Police Chief Jeff Trotnic said.
With plans to meet friends downtown La Crosse at midnight, Frye refused a ride from at least one person.
A motorist saw a woman authorities believe was Frye walking across Second Avenue South toward the river between 1:30 and 2 a.m., Trotnic said.
Police were in the area when Frye disappeared.
About 1:30 a.m., officers went to the bar to help a drunken woman they found outside by a stop sign. The woman also was helping promote Body and Sol. Police interviewed her Monday afternoon, but Trotnic didn’t provide details.
Officers went back to the Spillway Pub minutes later when another woman reported her purse missing. Frye is seen on video leaving with the purse — police suspect she took it by mistake, and they later found its contents about two blocks south of the bar.
Frye’s friends launched a search Sunday when she failed to report for a shift at the La Crosse Menards, where she also worked.
One found Frye’s ID cards along the railroad tracks about 3 p.m. Another friend found her shoes and purse near the tracks south of Irvin Street about 8:15 p.m., police said.
A tracking canine led police and Department of Natural Resources agents through thick vegetation and back to the tracks before losing Frye’s scent.
Authorities found the body about 8:40 p.m.
The state DCI spent Monday canvassing the area and checking surveillance videos, Trotnic said.
“We want to make sure we’re fully investigating this,” he said. “But we don’t have any reason to believe it’s a suspicious death.”
But it would be uncharacteristic for Frye to get drunk at an unfamiliar bar without her friends, especially while working and when she had plans after her shift, Buening said.
It was Frye’s first time at the Spillway Pub, her friends said. The owner of the bar did not return phone calls, and an employee there Monday declined comment.
“It’s very weird for us to hear that she wandered around and did whatever,” said Frye’s friend Shane Blair. “It’s just confusing. It doesn’t really all add up.”
Blair said he last heard from Frye about 11 p.m. Saturday.
“She kind of just stopped texting,” he said.
“It still feels like she’s not gone,” Blair said. “We’re still expecting her to walk through the door to hang out with us.”
Today’s autopsy should also reveal a preliminary alcohol level.
‘Always made you smile’
Frye was a bubbly and feisty woman desperately missed by her friends, said her roommate Tyler Zibrowski said. She liked the beach, bulldogs and giraffes and is remembered for her big heart and infectious smile.
“If somebody didn’t have somebody, she was going to be there for them,” Blair said. “She was a person you wanted to be around. She always made you smile, always made you laugh.”
Frye, a native of Beliot, Wis., was active in the university’s American Marketing Association and eager to graduate in the fall and start a career.
The university will hold an event to celebrate her life, Chancellor Joe Gow said. Officials will visit Frye’s classes today to offer counseling and support to other students.
Frye is at least the third UW-L student to die unexpectedly this school year.
Jing Gu, a student from China, was killed by a car in September while crossing La Crosse Street near Oakland Street. Sean Eric Schoonmaker died in an August car crash near Hayward.
“When you see people grieving, you know that this person meant the world to them,” Gow said. “It’s a very powerful reminder that our relationships with other people are really all that we have in our life.”