Frat crash deadly; one member jailed

A car carrying three young members of a local fraternity from an initiation party along the Sacramento River wrecked on West Sacramento Avenue Saturday night, leaving one member dead, one in the hospital and one in jail.

According to the CHP, the accident happened when the driver of the car, Zeta Beta Tau member Chris Ocampo, sped up to pass another car full of fraternity members and lost control, hitting a tree stump by the roadside and flipping over, coming to rest upside-down in an almond orchard. Ocampo was examined at the scene and arrested for driving under the influence of drugs and vehicular manslaughter.

Daniel C. Swarm, 19, riding in the front passenger seat, was killed in the impact. Swarm, who is also known as Daniel Mason, apparently had been a fraternity member since last year, when he joined while attending Butte College. The car’s other passenger, 19-year-old ZBT member Christopher Goodman, received moderate injuries and was transported to Enloe Medical Center.

Speaking Wednesday a few hours before Ocampo was scheduled to be arraigned, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said his office was charging Ocampo with one count each of driving while impaired causing injury and gross vehicular manslaughter. Ramsey said conversations with officers who responded to the scene indicated that Ocampo had smoked marijuana earlier in the day and may have been under the influence of another drug as well. Results of a blood test are pending. There was no indication that alcohol or drugs were involved in the initiation, he said.

Ramsey said Ocampo was traveling at speeds close to 80 mph when he attempted to pass another car full of frat members across a double yellow line and continued through the intersection of West Sacramento and Meridian Road. His car, a 1991 Toyota Tercel, then fishtailed upon re-entering its lane and careened off the road.

Zeta Beta Tau Executive director Jonathon Yulish said he was investigating the accident himself and had not found any evidence that frat members were using drugs or alcohol at their initiation ceremony. Such a party would violate the frat’s charter, he said. Zeta Beta Tau does not recognize the Chico house as a full-fledged chapter, but only a colony, Yulish said, meaning that its members were working toward chapter status. Yulish said he couldn’t say one way or another how the accident would affect that status.

“As far as we can tell, this is just a terrible accident. We lost a member, and we’re sorry about that. We send our condolences to Daniel’s friends and family. We all feel terrible about it.”

Reaction on campus was the usual mix of grief and resignation. At the Associated Students Governmental Affairs Committee, A.S. President Adam Dondro said it was sad a student had died. Kristina Boswell, the A.S. coordinator of alumni affairs, said things are not looking good for the frat. “The Police Department is going to crack down and make it an example of what not to do.”

The local ZBT colony did not return calls by press time. Its Web site features a tribute to Daniel, encouraging visitors to leave messages of condolence. One such message remembered him as "A loving guy with a warmth like no one can describe, [with] a smile to brighten up the room."