The boy wandered off outside the building in the middle of the night. It was cold outside, and he had been locked out, so he was desperately looking for a way in.
When the teen stumbled upon the hidden door, he didn’t hesitate. He went in. And that would prove to be the biggest mistake of his life.
On a Friday evening, 19-years-old college freshman Wade Steffey walked into the Ford dining hall, one of the five dining halls on Purdue university’s campus.
Purdue is a prestigious American university in Indiana known for its excellent athletics and academics. Wade, an aviation technology student at Purdue on a full academic scholarship, was looking forward to his future. He had no idea what it had in store for him, though.
Wade grabbed some food and then sat down at a table with some friends. This was the first Friday of the spring semester. The hundreds of other students sitting around them were excited about what they were up to that night and what they would do the following weekend.
And so Wade and his friends sat there chatting about their plans for about an hour before the teen made a decision that would change his life forever.
Wade left his friends and stumbled upon this huge party at a fraternity, so he decided to stay there until around midnight. At that point, he pulled one of his friends aside and told them that he had just remembered he had left his jacket inside of Owen Hall, so he wanted to return and retrieve it.
The dorms on Purdue’s campus were all locked at night. So, the only way he could get inside was if he lived there and had a key or if he knew someone who lived there and could open the door for him. Wade didn’t know what to do next.
During his walk back to Owen Hall, Wade would make six phone calls in an attempt to get someone inside to open the door for him. He called two people that lived inside Owen Hall. However, they didn’t answer their phones.
So around 12:30 a.m., Wade arrived at Owen Hall. He put his phone back in his pocket and walked up to the locked doors. He was desperate to get in at that point.
Wade just started knocking, and eventually, a resident of Owen Hall heard the knocking, and they came out to the door to see what was going on. They noticed Wade. Apparently, they decided he looked too intoxicated to let into the building.
They refused him entry, so Wade apparently stood there and kept knocking for a bit but eventually just kind of gave up. He turned around and walked away.
After Wade had been denied entry into Owen Hall, he left and made his way around to the left side of the building to look for another way inside. When he got to the left side of the building, he found another door. Even though this door did not have a sign on it that said keep out, it was fairly obvious that it was not designed for students to use.
There was a metal railing that lined the outside of the door to clearly prevent pedestrians from getting to it. The door was not built at ground level but lower and was always locked. Well, it was supposed to always be locked.
Wade grabbed the doorknob of this off-limits door and pulled on it. It was open, so he stepped inside, and it was totally pitch black, and all he could hear was the sound of machines humming and whirring in the darkness. In his intoxicated state, he decided it was still a good idea to proceed.
Wade’s only concern was to find a light switch, and he was worried that once the door shut, it might actually lock behind him, and then he’d be trapped inside. So he took off one of his shoes and tucked it in the door to keep it open.
Wade began walking into this room, and pretty much right away, he bumped into this big metal structure he couldn’t see. But he could feel it and could tell it was a flat metal structure and felt like a machine of some kind. His goal was to get through this room and find another door into the dorm.
So Wade began moving around and discovered that this machine was huge. So by the time he actually got to the left edge of it, he realized the space between the side of the machine and the wall of the room was big enough that if he turned sideways, he could squeeze his way past it. Or so he thought.
Wade turned sideways, so his back was to the wall of the room, and his chest was going to be facing the machine, and he began pushing himself into that narrow space. So as he was making his way further, his hands were up protecting his face and neck, and at some point, he kind of began to trip. He didn’t fall because he was wedged into this tight space.
But for a second, he reflexively grabbed his hands onto this machine right in front of him. Just by chance, his left ring finger slipped into a very narrow hole about two inches deep. At that moment, he realized what a terrible mistake he had made.
The room that Wade was in was called an electrical vault, and it contained six large transformers, one of which Wade’s finger had just stuck inside of. The outside of these transformers was mainly covered with protective materials that mitigated the electrocution risk.
But there were still several parts of these machines that there was just nothing you could do. One of those sections you needed to be extra careful with was that two-inch hole Wade’s finger slipped inside.
At the back of that two-inch hole was an exposed electrical conductor. And the second the tip of Wade’s finger touched that conductor, between 2000 and 4000 volts of electricity was pumped into his body. Wade passed away instantly.
Wade then remained kind of wedged between the transformer and the wall after he passed away. He was in a semi-upright position with his finger still stuck inside.
After two long months, Wade’s remains were discovered by a maintenance worker who happened to hear a weird noise inside the room. Due to Wade still being connected to the machine, it began to make strange noises.
When he looked behind the transformers, the janitor was shocked. The gruesome discovery left him scarred for life.
Wade was found only after two months due to the well-hidden area he was. A detective checked that room right after he went missing, but because the room was so dangerous, he didn’t get a chance to check it in detail. He just looked around.
Sadly, this meant that Wade would only be discovered after two months. His family and everyone who knew him couldn’t believe what had happened.
After a lawsuit, it was deemed that the university had been negligent and was ordered to pay Wade’s family half a million dollars in damages. They should have been more careful in blocking access to such a dangerous area.
That door should have been locked. From then on, the room was better secured to prevent such tragedies from happening again.