Frat drinking death suit settled

The family of Adrian Heideman, the 18-year-old Chico State University student who died from alcohol poisoning at a fraternity pledge initiation in October 2000, reached a settlement in a wrongful death suit against the fraternity’s parent organization last week.

The settlement forces the North Carolina-based Pi Kappa Phi fraternity to pay unspecified damages to the Heidemans but avoids a potentially more costly jury trial. Adrian’s mother, Edith Heideman, said the decision to settle was a “very difficult” one to make.

“It’s in the best interest of our family,” she said, noting that a jury trial could have lasted for months, during which she and her children would have had to stay in Butte County.

“I think a strong message has been sent,” she said. The suit and corresponding media coverage have allowed the family to “put a human face on alcohol-related deaths,” she said.

The Heidemans brought their suit after Adrian was found dead in the basement of the Pi Kappa Phi frat house on Rio Chico Way. Adrian, a computer engineering student who was known to not be a regular drinker, passed out and choked on his own vomit after attempting to drink a pitcher of beer and a bottle of blackberry brandy. According to press reports, he passed out sometime around 10 p.m. and was left in the basement by fraternity brothers who then went upstairs to watch a couple of strippers who had been hired for the party. Some of the brothers found Adrian dead shortly after 1 a.m.

The university dissolved the fraternity’s local charter soon after Adrian’s death, effectively closing down the chapter. Three fraternity officers later received 30-day sentences in the Butte County Jail after pleading no contest to criminal charges related to providing liquor to Adrian, who was underage. A civil suit against the Chico chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi also found its members culpable, ordering eight individuals to pay $500,000 in damages to the Heidemans.

Alex Grab, the Heidemans’ lawyer, would not disclose the terms of the settlement but called it “very fair,” saying the money would allow Edith Heideman to continue speaking to college-age students about the dangers of binge drinking.

“We never asked for a specific dollar amount,” Grab said. “This settlement will allow the Heidemans to, in some ways, move on and will also Edie to continue her work in what has become her calling.”

Mike Osborne, attorney for Pi Kappa Phi, said the settlement was a way to appease both sides but added that the decision doesn’t prove his client was responsible for Adrian’s death.

“What can a frat do to stop a party in Chico on a Friday night?” he asked. “How can a national fraternity, a non-profit organization located 2,000 miles away… stop anything from happening?”

Osborne said the fraternity was actively trying to promote responsible drinking, including circulating a memorial and educational video on the subject featuring Adrian’s story.