LaCrosse: dying to party

  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 4:20 PM

LaCrosse, Wis., is a town that has lived to party since Gottlieb Heilman opened his brewery there in 1858. But more recently the town is a place where people die to party. Since 1997, nine college-aged men have drowned in the Mississippi or other nearby rivers after wandering from bars or parties. It got so bad by 2007 and many townspeople were so loathe to blame alcohol that they latched onto a theory that a serial killer was to blame. But now, a coalition of town leaders is trying several ways to break through the denial, change attitudes and get bars, festival organizers and especially drinkers to go easier. Some of them say it appears to be having some effect: No one has drowned drunk since 2010, and leaders of the effort say they're cautiously optimistic that even though La Crosse probably always will party hearty, the town may be turning a corner to a less embarassing and less tragic future.

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