PORTLAND – The mother of a man who lay for five days on the floor of his University of Southern Maine office after suffering an apparent massive stroke said she wants campus police to conduct more careful and frequent checks of university buildings.
David Norton, a senior communications specialist for the University of Maine System, died Oct. 15 at Maine Medical Center, five days after he was found by USM police in his office in an isolated wing of the Science Building in Portland. Police and his family believe Norton lay alone and ill in his office from the Friday before Columbus Day weekend until the following Wednesday. The campus was closed for the holiday weekend.
An officer found Norton after a co-worker reported that he had missed a meeting and could not be contacted.
“It’s impossible for us to wrap our minds around how anyone could lay on the floor for five days in an office on a college campus and not be found,” said Norton’s mother, Linda Norton of Kingfield.
Linda Norton said Tuesday that she has asked the university to develop a policy that would require police to check each office every day. But a USM official said that is unlikely to happen. There are about 1,300 offices at the university, which has about 90 buildings on campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn.
Norton, 45, worked for the university system’s information technology department. Phone records show he last made calls from his office on Friday, Oct. 5, said Bob Caswell, spokesman for USM. The door of his office was locked and a curtain covered the office window when he was found, Caswell said.
“There was no indication, because of the drawn curtain, that there was anybody in there,” Caswell said. “He obviously was in a state of emergency when he was found.”
Norton was alive and was rushed to Maine Medical Center, but too much time had elapsed to save him, his mother said. Linda Norton said her family has had a hard time understanding how her son could have gone so long without help.
“Nobody can believe he wasn’t found for five days. Nobody. Everyone I say that to says, ‘How could that possibly happen on a college campus?'” she said. “I realize it was a long weekend, but why not Tuesday?”
While Norton lay in his office, his car was ticketed three times over the weekend for being left overnight in a campus lot. Caswell said that alone did not raise a red flag with police because Norton was known to leave his car in the lot when he went out of town on hiking trips. Norton was an avid runner and hiker who often hiked during vacations at Acadia National Park.
Caswell said the situation is tragic, and acknowledged it raises some questions.
“This entire episode begs the question how someone can be in an office for days and not be found,” he said. “It’s a real tragedy for his family, friends and co-workers.”
Stephen Houser, a professor and executive director of computer services, first met Norton during Norton’s first week of college in 1986. After attending USM at the same time, they worked together for 25 years. Houser said Norton’s death has raised concerns among information technology staff members because they often work alone at times when few people are on campus.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotion around this,” he said.
As senior communications specialist, Norton did IT work for multiple campuses across the state. Houser said Norton was regarded as a “really hard worker” who was well liked by co-workers.
“If you were looking for something to get done, he was the guy,” Houser said.
He said Norton was a “quirky” man who was fun to be around and always had a story to share. He had a wide array of hobbies, including photography.
“He was a longtime friend and this is a serious loss,” Houser said. “I’m not sure (this is) something you quickly recover from.”
Linda Norton said she went to USM last week to clean out her son’s office. There, she found a piece of paper taped to his office door reminding people that Norton often said “to always have fun.” The sign said: “The best way to remember him is to live life to the fullest,” she said.
“That tells you what kind of person he was,” she said, her voice choked with emotion. “He was a good kid.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: