Virginia Tech junior Tom Hauser spent Saturday night bar-hopping with friends in Blacksburg.

They continued drinking well into the early hours of Sunday, police said, and Hauser, 22, of Springfield had to be helped -- at times carried -- to an off-campus apartment by classmates. His friends thought he would sleep it off.

But Hauser never woke up.

"They found him the next morning, deceased," said Lt. Don Goodman, a spokesman for the Blacksburg police.

Although lab tests to determine the cause of death won't be complete for several weeks, Goodman said alcohol poisoning is the primary focus of the investigation.

University officials said Hauser's death, if it was alcohol-related, would be the school's first fatal alcohol overdose since in 1991.

"This is a tragedy," university spokesman Mark Owczarski said. "We're still trying to deal with the immediacy of the situation."

Owczarski said Hauser's parents were on campus working through their son's affairs. Calls made yesterday to their home in Springfield went unanswered.

Hauser graduated in 2000 from West Springfield High School, where he played on the lacrosse team and was a member of the school's jazz guitar ensemble, administrators said.

Yesterday, Principal David Smith described Hauser as "a very popular student" who was voted by his peers as the male senior with the "best personality."

"It gives you a sense of the kind of kid he was, of his zest for life," Smith said. "This is a total tragedy. Unfortunately, it's one that we hear about all too often."

Statistics compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that 1,400 college students 18 to 24 years old die each year of alcohol-related unintentional injuries in the United States, including injuries from motor vehicle crashes. An additional 500,000 are accidentally injured while under the influence of alcohol.

Virginia Tech officials said Hauser, a general engineering major in the school's College of Engineering, had been enrolled since fall 2000 and was not a member of a fraternity or any campus clubs. They said he spent most of his nonacademic hours with a small group of close-knit friends.

Police said Hauser was with friends when he went to a Virginia Tech home football game Saturday afternoon. They headed out to drink at 9:30 p.m. Police said they left the last bar they visited, Sharkey's, at 2:30 a.m. and headed home.

Police said all of the students with Hauser that night were 21 or older and can drink in bars legally.

Goodman said friends discovered Hauser's body about 8:30 a.m. and called the rescue squad.

"It would be any family members' worst nightmare to get that phone call," Goodman said.