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November 15, 2012

Nathan Bihlmaier

Autopsy: Harvard student who drowned in Portland was inebriated

By David Hench
dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

An autopsy showed that Nathan Bihlmaier had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving when he fell into Portland Harbor and drowned on May 20.

Bihlmaier, 31, was due to graduate from Harvard Business School later that week and was in Portland to celebrate with his family and friends.

Police found his body in the harbor two days later, after an extensive search.

The Portland Press Herald requested the autopsy report, which indicated that Bihlmaier died accidentally from drowning.

Blood tests showed he had no drugs in his system but a blood alcohol level of 0.22 percent. Driving with a level of 0.08 percent or greater is considered operating under the influence.

Most people are extremely impaired with a level of 0.22 percent, which would generally affect motor skills, balance and judgment.

Blood tests on Bihlmaier scanned for the most common drugs and found none, except caffeine. The autopsy describes no major injuries, just minor scrapes and bruises he may have sustained from falling or struggling to get out of the water.

The state Medical Examiner's Office received two sets of test results in June and sought another round of tests in September. It's not clear why another round was requested. The Medical Examiner's Office did not return several calls Tuesday and Wednesday.

Although there were indications that Bihlmaier was drunk when he was told to leave Ri Ra Irish Pub on Commercial Street, the bar is unlikely to face criminal charges or citations for violating state liquor laws prohibiting serving patrons who are drunk.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said this week that police cannot determine what Bihlmaier did from 11:20 p.m. on May 19, when he left the bar, until 12:54 a.m. on May 20, when his cellphone went dead.

"That would be problematic from a criminal standpoint or an administrative violation standpoint," Sauschuck said of that gap and its impact on any prosecution.

Employees of Ri Ra did not appear to have committed any infractions, he said at the time. "I can't speak to the civil side of things," he said.

There is no record in Portland District Court of any lawsuit related to Bihlmaier's death.

Bihlmaier graduated from Kansas University, then attended Harvard Business School, where he earned a master's in business administration.

He was set to graduate on May 23, a Wednesday, and he and his friends came to Portland to celebrate on the weekend before the ceremony. He and his wife had recently learned that she was pregnant.

The group stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on Commercial Street and drank across the street at Ri Ra, where Bihlmaier eventually was told to leave.

Why he was asked to leave became a point of contention in the days immediately after his disappearance.

A bouncer who was head of security for the bar said at the time that Bihlmaier knocked over band equipment. His friends told police later that Bihlmaier went to another part of the bar and they did not realize he had left.

The bouncer said he escorted Bihlmaier along the sidewalk and twice offered to get him a cab. Bilhmaier did not seem particularly intoxicated and was not staggering, according to the bouncer.

However, police questioned why Bihlmaier would have been asked to leave if he wasn't extremely intoxicated, and said security video from the bar showed that the bouncer was outside for only 28 seconds as Bihlmaier left, not long enough to escort him a block and a half down the street, as the bouncer claimed to have done.

Bihlmaier's last contact with his friends was a disoriented cellphone call at midnight. Trying to find his way back to them, he described a large, official-looking stone building, which police guessed was the Custom House, about a block from Ri Ra and across the street from the harbor and Custom House Wharf.

When he had not returned by the next morning, his friends contacted police, who began the search.

One of Bihlmaier's flip-flops was found that afternoon in the water alongside Maine Wharf, between Ri Ra and Custom House Wharf.

That intensified the search of the waterfront, with Coast Guard boats, divers, search-and-rescue teams, and dogs trained to find bodies underwater.

His body was found not far from Ri Ra, in deep water off Custom House Wharf, on the day before his graduation.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com





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