University of Iowa student dies after being found unresponsive during polar vortex

Aimee Breaux and Hillary Ojeda
Halsey Hall is seen Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, Iowa.

A University of Iowa student was found dead of possible exposure near Halsey Hall early Wednesday morning, university officials said.

UI Police discovered Gerald Belz unresponsive at about 2:48 a.m. Wednesday. The student, a pre-medicine major from Cedar Rapids in his second semester, was transported to the hospital, where he later died.

Officials have not yet released a specific cause of death or Belz's age. An investigation into his death is ongoing, but officials have said they do not suspect foul play. Police at the scene Wednesday afternoon taped off an area near the door to Fitness East, a campus gym adjacent to Halsey Hall.

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The air temperature was 22 degrees below zero at 2:52 a.m. Wednesday, with a wind chill of 51 below zero. In extreme cold, hypothermia can set in in as little as five minutes in temperatures of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit if a person is wearing inadequate winter clothing or skin is exposed, especially the scalp, hands, fingers or face. At 30 below zero, hypothermia can set in in about 10 minutes.

Michael Belz, Gerald's father, said he was told repeatedly by emergency room doctors that no alcohol was found in his son's system.

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Officials are encouraging students who are affected by Belz' death to seek out counseling services.

"We are saddened to share we’ve lost a member of the Hawkeye family," the university administration said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones. We encourage our students to reach out if they are in need of support."

Belz was a resident of Burge Hall, a six-minute walk from Halsey Hall. Counselors will be available Thursday to talk to students from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Burge Hall dining room.

Belz's death is the second in Iowa City in just over a year believed to be related to exposure. The body of Paul Biagas, 24, was found lying in the snow in front of the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center on Jan. 2, 2018.

An autopsy of Biagas, also a former University of Iowa student, showed that the man died of hypothermia and was intoxicated at the time of death. Police believed that Biagas may have been walking home from a New Year's Eve party. The recreation center was closed for construction at the time.

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Follow Aime Breaux Hilary Ojeda on Twitter: @aimee_breaux and @hillarymojeda

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: University of Iowa student dies after being found unresponsive during polar vortex