Untangling the Wrongful-Death Lawsuit That Blames Wash. U. for Fall From High Rise

Yongsang Soh. - Courtesy of Soh family
Courtesy of Soh family
Yongsang Soh.

As October 26, 2013, bled into a new day, Yongsang Soh sat at a table at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles with three friends, all seemingly content with drinking and gambling their way into Sunday.

Affluent, serious and handsome, Soh appears in photos with a messy mop of black hair, a barely there smile and a narrow, refined face that takes after his mother's. A thrill seeker and devoted Cardinals fan, Soh had recently purchased two tickets to see his team play in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The next month, Soh, a senior enrolled in Washington University's notoriously demanding Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, planned to spend Thanksgiving break in Las Vegas.

If Soh was upset at losing several hundred dollars at the casino, he didn't voice it to his buddies as they headed back home to the Dorchester, a high-rise apartment on Skinker Boulevard just a ten-minute walk from the campus of Wash. U.

By 2 a.m. Soh and his entourage were on the 21st floor of the building and had joined three other friends from school who'd been tripping on LSD for hours. One of them handed Soh a tab and passed another to "Jim," one of his friends who'd accompanied him to the casino. [Note: Riverfront Times has changed the name of this friend because we were unable to reach him for comment. He did, however, speak to private detectives. Those accounts are used in this article.]

An hour later, Jim began noticing something unusual in Soh's behavior. Later, he would tell a private detective that Soh seemed anxious, flustered and was mumbling to himself in his native Korean.

Around 4 a.m., Soh, Jim and a few others piled into a car for a psychedelic drive through Forest Park, located across the street from the Dorchester. The early-morning expedition included a snack stop at John Donut in Soulard. While still at the shop, Soh and Jim complained that they were not getting high enough. Each took another tab of acid, according to private investigators.

Around 5 a.m. the friends returned once more to the Dorchester. This time they gathered in Soh's apartment on the 23rd floor where they allegedly smoked some joints and began watching the conspiracy-theory documentary Thrive. As dawn began to break at 6:30 a.m., the party had frittered away to just Soh and Jim.

At 7 a.m. one of the partiers returned briefly to look for a misplaced cell phone. Jim lay on the leather sofa; Soh was flopped on an overstuffed brown recliner. The friend asked if they were OK. Jim replied that everything was fine. Soh, who was covered with a blanket, said nothing. The friend left.

Jim told private detectives that he later locked himself in the apartment's bedroom to get away from Soh's continuous, panicked yelling in Korean. Jim would be the last person to see Soh alive.

At 8:30 a.m. a woman watching the news in her apartment on the 11th floor of the Dorchester glimpsed a "shadow" flit past her east-facing window. About 40 minutes later, drawn by the wailing of sirens, she walked to her window and peered down.

The 22-year-old Soh lay splayed on the driveway. He'd been wearing mismatched shoes when he spilled off the 23rd-floor balcony. A Nike sneaker clung to his right foot, while the other shoe, a Sperry-style loafer, was thrown several feet from the impact. According to the police incident report, Soh's battered body showed no signs of defensive wounds that would hint at foul play before his plummet. Following an initial autopsy, the medical examiner listed the cause of death as "suicide." But that verdict changed just last month when St. Louis' Office of the Medical Examiner amended the cause of death to "undetermined" after new testing paid for by Soh's family revealed LSD in his body.

St. Louis detectives gather near one of Yongsang Soh's shoes at the scene of his death.
St. Louis detectives gather near one of Yongsang Soh's shoes at the scene of his death.

Within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the investigation into Soh's death remains "ongoing," although cops say they are not seeking a suspect and consider the fatality a "non-criminal incident." But try telling that to Soh's wealthy and influential family. This summer, they demanded that Washington University pay up $50 million for not pursuing criminal charges against Soh's friends and Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity brothers whose drug dealing they believe is responsible for their son's death.

This week, the family pressed the issue further in filing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the university, alleging the St. Louis institution "acted with reckless indifference in failing to report the criminal conduct of the SAM House and its members to appropriate prosecutorial authorities despite the university's extensive knowledge of their criminal activities and enterprise."

Had the university acted responsibly, Soh's parents argue, their son would still be alive today.

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