Indian-Origin Student Froze to Death After Being Denied Entry into Illinois Nightclub

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Akul Dhawan
Akul Dhawan (left) and The Canopy Club, where he was denied entry. Twitter/Google

An Illinois college student froze to death near a club that denied him entry during a night out with friends, officials say.

Akul Dhawan, a freshman at the University of Illinois, in Urbana, died due to hypothermia, the Champaign County Coroner's Office said in a Feb. 20 news release.

Dhawan was Denied Entry into Club by Staff Despite His Repeated Attempts

As reported by The Kansas City Star, the announcement comes about a month after the 18-year-old was found dead by a university employee the morning of Jan. 20, according to the campus police department. Dhawan had been out drinking with friends overnight, police said, but the evening took a turn at about 11:30 p.m.

Dhawan's friends went into the Canopy Club — a venue close to campus, which the group had already visited that night — but staff wouldn't let him in, according to police.

Surveillance video shows he tried to re-enter the Canopy Club "multiple times, but was repeatedly denied by staff," investigators said, adding that he also turned down two rideshare vehicles called for him.

Dhawan's Cause of Death Noted as 'Alcohol Intoxication and Prolonged Exposure to Extremely Cold Temperatures'

Calls made to Dhawan throughout the night went unanswered, and a concerned friend contacted campus police to search for him, officials said. According to police, an officer looked for Dhawan by driving "at a walking pace" near the "likely path" he would have taken back to campus but did not see him.

Officers also placed calls to people who knew Dhawan and to area hospitals, police said, but it would be hours before he was found — at about 11 a.m. — "laying on concrete steps" behind a building.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, the coroner's office said, adding "acute alcohol intoxication and prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures, significantly contributed to his death."

Dhawan's Family Alleges Police 'Never Searched' for Their Son

It's a four minute walk from the Canopy Club to where Dhawan was found. Despite statement from officials, Dhawan's family "believe that the police never searched for our son," the family wrote in an open letter published in The News-Gazette.

"We have been asking why Akul was found 10 hours later, rather than immediately after he was reported missing, when he could still be saved," they wrote. "The locations where he was reported missing and where he was found are less than 200 feet apart. 200 feet!"

A campus police spokesperson said in a statement: "The safety of all of our students and community members is of the highest priority. When we are called to check the welfare of a student, officers and non-sworn staff respond as quickly as possible, and their actions are based on information offered either by the caller or discovered during the immediate response."

"The university community and police department are heartbroken as a result of this tragedy, though we certainly acknowledge that the depth of our grief cannot compare with that of the Dhawan family. Our thoughts remain with them," the spokesperson said. It was Dhawan's first week back at college following winter break, his family said.

"We were so proud of our son for completing his semester and thriving at the university. He was a very smart kid who had his whole life before him," the letter said. "We will never be the same." Urbana is about 135 miles southwest of Chicago.

Dhawan was one of at least seven Indian-origin students who have died in the United States in the last few weeks, raising concerns over their safety. Cold and frigid weather conditions played a role in at least four of those demises.