A single-car accident resulted in the death of a Binghamton University student this weekend. The driver of the car, who was the victim’s fraternity brother, was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.
Willie Poon was one of four passengers in a vehicle that went off the road at 11:10 p.m. on Friday, according to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office. The driver was Rolyden C. Liu, a member of Poon’s fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon.
According to police, the car, a 2001 Acura MDX registered to one of Liu’s relatives, was traveling east on Route 79 in Tompkins County, a quarter mile before the Tioga County line, when it left the roadway and struck a tree. One passenger said the group was heading back from Cornell University after visiting a fraternity house there.
Liu’s blood alcohol level was unknown at the time of print, and is still being tested. Police could not say whether he was speeding, but there were no skid marks in the roadway. It’s possible he drifted or fell asleep, said Capt. Derek Osborne, but the road was fairly straight and in good condition.
Route 79 does not have an overwhelming history of accidents, according to police.
The most damage was done to the car’s passenger side, where the tree impacted the car. Poon was sitting in the backseat on the passenger’s side, the report states.
Poon, a senior at BU, sustained a serious head injury and was transported to Cayuga Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead by hospital staff at 2:55 a.m. on Saturday, police said.
The other passengers suffered scrapes and bruises, and were treated and released. Two of them are also BU students, while the other attends the University of Michigan.
There were no other witnesses to the accident other than the passengers.
Liu was initially charged with driving while intoxicated and vehicular assault, a felony in the second degree. After Poon’s passing, Liu was re-arraigned on the charge of vehicular manslaughter, also a felony.
He was sent to Tompkins County Jail in lieu of a $25,000/$50,000 cash/bond bail. He was bailed out Saturday morning and was scheduled to appear in the Town of Caroline Court today at 9 a.m.
Timothy Chan, Lambda’s fundraiser, described Poon as a “gentle giant,” a very caring guy and the type of person who never had bad intentions.
“He loved to laugh, he loved to do harmless practical jokes,” Chan said. “He touched a lot of people.”
It was Poon’s affinity for meeting new people that drove him to visit colleges in Massachusetts, California and several other states, according to Chan. Students from the University of Toronto, the University of Massachusetts and UT Dallas, among other colleges, inscribed the Facebook wall of a group dedicated to Poon with messages of shock and remembrance of “Strobe” — a nickname Poon went by.
“On the East Coast, nationwide pretty much, everyone knew him as Strobe,” Chan said. “If there was one person who knew everybody, he knew everybody.”
Chan described Poon as a beloved member of his fraternity, and a role model for the pledge class he coached last semester as pledge master.
“He actually took a fatherly role to [his pledges],” he added. ”He loved his class.”
Poon loved watching movies, working out, going to clubs and just enjoyed being around people.
“You could always look forward to seeing his patented smile, which would brighten anyone’s day,” said Jason Chen, another member of Lambda.
Mark Iong, a member of the CU’s Lambda chapter, said Poon had come for a barbecue at his fraternity house that Friday, and was there to celebrate Slope Day, a Cornell University-sanctioned event featuring food, music, games and alcohol for guests of age.
The annual celebration includes a portion of the day called “Slope Fest,” which takes place in a fenced-in area where alcohol is sold. Students need a valid ID and a stamp to buy alcohol, and are limited to five cups of beer — sold one at a time — for the entire event, which began at noon and ended at 5:30 p.m., according to Simeon Moss, director of press relations for CU.
“Willie’s always been there, not just for his BU brothers but also Cornell,” Iong said. “We never would’ve expected something like this would happen.”
— Robert Hadad-Zlokower and Erika Neddenien contributed reporting to this article.