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Questions linger on why Clarkson lacrosse player was assaulted; suspects due in court today

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POTSDAM — Potsdam police hope to shed some light on why two St. Lawrence County men assaulted a Clarkson University lacrosse player last month during court proceedings beginning today.

Potsdam Village Police Lt. Mark R. Murray said interviews and investigations into what set off the assault of Donald James Ward Whelley, 21, started with what he said was “chirping” or “jaw jacking.”

The terms, Lt. Murray said, came from interviews with suspects Bryan A. Bicknell, 20, of 342 West Parishville Road, Parishville, and Dakota J. Vallance, 18, of 399 Buckton Road, Winthrop, who are charged with felony assault.

“The explanations that were provided were hollow verbal banter,” Lt. Murray said. “Both parties of this incident called it ‘chirping’ or ‘jaw jacking’ or yelling insults back and forth. There was a lot of verbal exchange before there were physical blows.”

Alcohol was a factor in the incident but not the reason for the attack on the Clarkson student, said Lt. Murray, adding there is nothing to indicate the assault was premeditated.

“One of the most discouraging aspects of this case is that we may never find out why this attack happened,” Lt. Murray said. “It just seemed like it was thug mentality. I don’t agree with any of it, as a father, as a person or as a police officer.”

Video surveillance gathered from local businesses show a marked patrol passing groups on the street, and a police officer in the vicinity saw people talking but not fighting, Lt. Murray said.

“So only the people who were there know how this whole incident went down,” Lt. Murray said. “The officer went by and turned around and went back and didn’t observe any reason to stop the suspects.”

What has been discovered is there were five individuals who followed Mr. Whelley in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, although three of them broke off from the group prior to the assault. The names of those three have not been released, but they also are Clarkson students — one of them a high school friend of the two suspects who allegedly took part in the “chirping.”

Lt. Murray said the three Clarkson students did not know Mr. Whelley.

Both Bicknell and Vallance are to appear in Potsdam Village Court at 9:30 a.m. today to answer the felony assault charges against them.

“I do hope it sheds some light on things like our personal safety and our kids,” Lt. Murray said. “The behavior of the suspects leading up to, during and after the assault occurred is highly upsetting, there is no doubt. This is a tragedy for everyone involved. ”

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