Two steps forward, one step back

Even as a courthouse computer glitch delayed their trial, the fraternity members accused of being responsible for the hazing death of pledge Matthew Carrington were feeling other consequences of their actions.

Chico State President Paul Zingg said the university has concluded its own investigation of the four Chico State students—John Paul Fickes, 20, Michael Fernandes, 19, Richard Joseph Hirth, 22, and Trent Stiefvater, 20—charged, along with three other men, in the death of Carrington.

Zingg wouldn’t specify which of the four, if any, would be expelled and said the university would make an announcement soon.

Also, Michael Carrington and Debbie Smith, Carrington’s parents, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the fraternity and several of its members on May 12, the day before last week’s scheduled pretrial hearing.

“Fraternities absolutely must stop creating environments where excessive alcohol use, drug use and illegal hazing are all accepted,” said Alex Grab, the attorney representing Carrington and Smith.

Grab also represented the parents of Adrian Heideman, who died in 2000 after consuming large amounts of brandy at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity in Chico.

Carrington and Smith specifically filed suit against the Delta Alpha chapter of Delta Sigma Phi, which was renamed Chi Tau after losing its affiliation with the Interfraternity Council and Chico State University in 2002 for alcohol violations. The Delta Alpha Alumni Control Board, the Chi Tau fraternity and 10 of its members are also named in the lawsuit.

The Alamo-based Delta Alpha Alumni Control Board, Inc. has owned the fraternity house, located on the corner of West Fourth and Chestnut Streets, since 1991.

It is still unclear what will be done with the house.

Tim Downing, of T. Downing Construction, said the company was contacted by the owners and has already done repairs to the interior. Downing said he was meeting with owners this week to possibly continue work on the exterior of the house.

Using archived links from the Web site, where former members of the fraternity chatted about the good old drinking days, the CN&R found contact information for Rob Davidson, whom public records list as the primary contact for Delta Alpha Alumni Control Board, Inc.

Contacted at his Alamo home, Davidson, a member of the fall 1979 pledge class of Delta Sigma Phi whose nickname was “Lizard,” declined to comment on what the organization plans to do with the property.

Meanwhile, the May 13 pretrial hearing was postponed until June 3 because several attorneys were unable to open disks containing taped interviews with defendants.

It was also announced in court last Friday that charges against Rex Edward Garnett, 20, had been dropped and that he likely would testify during the trial.

Four frat members, including Fickes, Gabriel John Maestretti, 22, Carlos James DeVilla Abrille, 22, and Jerry Ming Lim, 25, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing. If convicted, they would face up to four years in state prison.

The three other Chico State students, Hirth, Fernandes and Stiefvater, are charged with violating California’s hazing law under the Education Code and could face up to one year in county jail and a $5,000 fine.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said attorneys will also have an opportunity to cross-examine Mike Quintana, who is scheduled to leave the country on Aug. 15 for a study abroad program in France.

Quintana participated in the water hazing ritual with Carrington in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, when the two pledges were told to drink large quantities of water while exercising in the cold basement of the Chi Tau house. Upon discovering that Carrington had stopped breathing, Quintana performed CPR but could not revive him.

Michael Carrington said he went by the fraternity house on the morning of the court appearance, as he’s done many times before.

“I just sit on the corner and think about my son,” Carrington said in an interview after the hearing.

And, as the Heidemans have done in the name of their son, Adrian, Carrington and Debbie Smith continue to get the word out about the dangers of hazing and alcohol abuse.

Smith is talking about starting her own nonprofit, called Mothers Against Terrible Tragedies (MATT), while Carrington has submitted articles of incorporation requesting nonprofit status for the Matt Carrington Project: Stopping Student-on-Student Violence.

“It’s been good working on the nonprofit,” Carrington said. “It’s such a good release.”