Parents of dead fraternity member file suit against ‘brothers’

The parents of Chico State University student Adrian Heideman, who died of acute alcohol poisoning at a Pi Kappa Phi rush party Oct. 7, 2000, filed suit against his fraternity brothers May 23, charging gross negligence.

Michael and Edith Heideman, of Palo Alto, are asking for punitive damages and a court order barring the fraternity from providing alcohol at functions. The suit names nine of Heideman’s fraternity brothers as individual defendants, along with the fraternity’s national organization and 100 “unknown” fraternity members who “contributed” to Heideman’s death that night.

The suit alleges that the fraternity’s leaders had required that Heideman and his fellow pledges repeat fraternity oaths punctuated by shots of brandy that night. After the oaths, the fraternity separated the pledges and members into “families,” which each had their own signature drink. Heideman’s “family” was called the “Foul Pups,” the suit reports, and required members each to consume an entire pitcher of beer and a whole bottle of blackberry brandy.

“The idea was to get [the pledges] so drunk that they had to depend on their fraternity brothers as a bonding experience,” the suit alleges.

After finishing his share, Heideman was so drunk that he was “falling over coffee tables.” The fraternity brothers—seven of them—led him to a basement bedroom, where he passed out while two strippers performed for the party upstairs. Heideman was found dead in the fraternity’s basement at about 1 a.m., less than three hours later.

It’s been a horrific seven months for Heideman’s mother, who said she hopes that her lawsuit will hold the fraternity accountable for its members’ actions that night.

“When they went down to the basement and found my son, he was covered with vomit and blood and feces,” she said. “They didn’t even know what was going on then. … In the 911 tape, you can hear someone asking, ‘Does anyone know first aid?'”

Heideman was a computer engineering major who excelled in drama and music, she said. He had visited home the weekend before the party at which he died. His mother remembers that weekend well.

“He was so excited about that fraternity,” she said. “And I was excited for him. … He was wearing his pin and carrying his fraternity book, and he kept saying he wasn’t allowed to put it down. He wanted me to buy him a bunch of ties, because [the fraternity’s pledges] were supposed to wear shirts and ties every Wednesday. It seemed like a good thing.”

Since the incident, Pi Kappa Phi fraternity has lost its recognition with both the university and its national chartering organization and will likely disband. And that’s the way it should be, Heideman said.

"They need to realize that my son died a horrible death because of what happened at their party," she said. "And that’s something I’ll never get over."