Kentucky newspapers stolen after article connected recent deaths to alcohol

KENTUCKY — Staff members say they were not surprised when more than 4,500 copies of the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, came up missing from news stands Nov. 13.

The issue featured an article about a recently released toxicology report stating two students and an alumna who died in unusual accidents in September were legally drunk at the time of their deaths. The incidents marked the “fifth year in the last six that a student has died in an alcohol-related incident,” the Kernel reported.

Kernel Editor in Chief Megan Boehnke, who authored the story, said family and friends of the deceased had asked her not to run the article. She said she received phone calls and messages in the days leading up to its publication. But the story, which also mentioned how university officials are cracking down on underage drinking, needed to be published, Boehnke said.

“The [deaths] have become a huge issue on campus,” Boehnke said. “With the trend that has developed, I strongly believe it needs to be discussed, information needs to be out there for the public to receive.”

The morning of the theft, the Kernel‘s advertising department received reports that newspapers were missing from distribution spots. Adviser Chris Poore said workers in some buildings witnessed two people taking the papers. He said because of the number of people calling in trying to stop the story, the incident did not surprise him.

“I think that friends and relatives are understandingly grieving and trying to find an outlet,” Poore said.

Poore also said the article simply presented information that is important to the campus community.

Staff members immediately reported the theft to university police, and extra copies of the newspaper were placed at empty distribution spots. Maj. Joe Monroe of the University of Kentucky Police Department said his office is currently conducting an investigation, and are looking at surveillance camera footage from around campus.

Poore said previous theft incidents prompted staff members to include a disclaimer in the paper stating that a single issue of the paper is free, but additional copies cost 25 cents. Monroe said the stolen copies have a value of over $300, making the theft a felony in the state of Kentucky. The stolen Nov. 13 issue also contained about $3,000 in advertising. The issue was not reprinted but its content was available the Kernel‘s Web site.

In November 1997 three University of Kentucky students were arrested and charged with the theft of 11,000 issues of the Kernel. The students pleaded guilty to the charges and served community service. A local prosecutor charged the students with third-degree criminal mischief, equating the theft with an incident of vandalism.

Both Poore and Boehnke said the newspaper will press charges if someone is arrested in the theft.