What have we learned?
Two fraternity deaths at Chico State in seven years, and yet the hazing goes on
In 2000, Adrian Heideman, a freshman at Chico State, was pledging a fraternity. One October night, the active members of Pi Kappa Phi fed him a bottle of blackberry brandy during an initiation ceremony. When he got sick, they put him in the basement to “sleep it off.” Except he never woke up.
“We have told students again and again that they cannot leave the side of a friend who has overconsumed alcohol,” Shauna Quinn, program manager of the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center, said in a press release following Heideman’s death.
The California State University system has since adopted strict rules regarding alcohol and university events. Three of Heideman’s fraternity brothers served 30-day sentences, and they and three others paid $75,000 each to Heideman’s family. Two others paid $25,000 each.
In 2005, transfer student Matthew Carrington hoped to join Chi Tau, an unrecognized fraternity with a house in the heart of Chico’s Greek neighborhood. It was “hell week,” and he and a fellow pledge were forced to do calisthenics in a sewage-filled basement. They drank from a 5-gallon water bottle while fans blew cold air on their wet bodies. Carrington collapsed and had a seizure. He was pronounced dead hours later, with an autopsy later confirming water intoxication.
Four members of the Chi Tau fraternity were charged with involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing. They pleaded guilty in varying degrees to the crimes and were sentenced to serve from 90 days to one year in jail.
“When Matt Carrington died it was another tragedy the campus had to deal with,” said Larry Bassow, Greek adviser at Chico State.
“My first reaction was that they haven’t learned anything from Adrian’s death,” Edith Heideman, Adrian’s mother, told the CN&R in March 2005. “I do feel very discouraged.”
An expert on fraternities and sororities was called to Chico State to evaluate the system. After talking to hundreds of Greeks on campus, Tom Jelke, founder and president of T. Jelke Solutions Inc. of Miami, said, “I found that most people are ready for a change and want to do what they can.”
Meanwhile, Debbie Smith, Carrington’s mother, began work on what would become Matt’s Law, a California statute making certain hazing offenses felonies. The school has always had rules forbidding hazing, Bassow said. Matt’s Law makes it so students—and the fraternities themselves—are accountable to the state of California, not just Chico State.
Last semester, just two years after Carrington’s death, hazing again dominated the news at a Chico fraternity. This time it was Beta Theta Pi. Fortunately, this time there were no deaths. But with allegations including forcing pledges to do calisthenics and then be submerged for long periods of time in ice baths, it’s a chilly reminder of what happened just down the street not too long ago.
“I feel scared that it happened again, and that it happened so close to where Matt died,” Carrington’s mother, Debbie Smith, told The Sacramento Bee in July. “I’m still in shock about it.”
Others in the community have echoed Smith’s disbelief. With the recent allegations, it’s easy to question whether Chico State Greeks have learned anything.
Ignorance is no excuse. Besides the fact that the three men accused in the latest hazing case were in school when Carrington died, fraternity and sorority members are constantly being reminded of the rules regarding hazing, at retreats and induction ceremonies.
“The bottom line is that there are rules and they need to follow them,” Bassow said. “And that’s the same with anything—hazing, drinking, grades. But now they’ve raised the consequences.”
Those consequences, of course, refer to Matt’s Law. In a sad ironic twist, the three Chico State students currently charged with hazing are the first in the state to put Matt’s Law to the test.
Christopher Bizot, Michael Murphy and Butte College student Matthew Krupp are due in court Oct. 29 and face charges of misdemeanor hazing. The district attorney expects their lawyers to file a second demur to try to get the complaint thrown out. If the judge overrules it, the plaintiffs could enter their pleas that day.