Students Shocked After Ohio Univ. Senior's Death on HHI

What should have been a fun time in the Low Country for an Ohio University student turned into a nightmare for her family and friends. The loved ones of Sarah Merritt are feeling their loss. The 20 year old Ohio University senior and her friends were on spring break on Hilton Head Island when Merritt fell to her death late Wednesday afternoon. She was trying to climb from one hotel balcony to another at the Comfort Inn.

"You can't walk outside without thinking about it," said Nate Buell from Endicott College. "It's hard not to think about it."

Buell and his friends will never forget the horrible sight outside their hotel.

"You could just see the people on the balconies were just shocked and they were just in awe of what was going on."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Sarah Merritt, a senior at Ohio University and a former All-American soccer player, plunged sixty feet to her death from her fifth floor hotel room balcony.

"We looked down and we saw the girl's friends were outside and we just felt so bad for them because they were hysterical," Buell explained. "It was tough just to see that."

Witnesses told Beaufort County Sheriff's deputies the girl was climbing from one balcony to the next.

"According to all accounts, it appeared she lost her footing," said Captain Bob Bromage with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. "Four of her friends from college had adjoining rooms," he said, "so she had done this, apparently according to witnesses, several times during that day and this time she happened to slip."

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is calling Merritt's death accidental; however, they're sending her body to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for an autopsy.

"We want to either include or rule out alcohol and or drugs as a possibility in this situation," said Captain Bromage. "We feel that there is something involved other than just walking from one balcony to the next."

For other students, what happened has become a painful reminder to be careful.

"Especially as a college student," said Buell. "It kind of just puts you in your place. That one bad decision can go extremely wrong."

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is calling this a rare, but unfortunate accident. They expect to have a full toxicology report within a month.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,