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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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Karen Espinoza

I knew this young man. I met him while he was still at MacArthur. Freshman year a friend and I were going to do tennis (ended up leaving the class) but we saw him and called him "muscle-shirt guy." We didn't know his name, but he looked like a nice guy. I met him when I was a sophomore I believe, and we kinda talked but just associatively. It happened the following year. He was really funny and sweet, and when I found out what happened... I was crying... At his funeral, I saw many seniors from the previous year with him, and they were there with each other, from his school. Needless to say it wasn't a happy reunion. I couldn't say anything to them, and I had to go to work soon, unfortunately. So I didn't even stay. I couldn't find myself to stay.

Emily Graves

Update on Jack's case:
http://www.statesman.com/

Suspended UT fraternity and three leaders indicted
Indictments come a year after alcohol-related death of pledge at off-campus house.

By Tony Plohetski
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Travis County grand jury today issued multiple indictments against a suspended University of Texas fraternity and three of its leaders after a yearlong investigation into the alcohol-related death of 18-year-old Houston pledge Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath.

President Benny Chan was indicted on seven counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor and 22 counts of hazing; pledge captain Andrew Nguyen was indicted on seven counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor and 28 counts of hazing; and Camal Pulukuri was indicted for 14 counts of hazing.

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said the leaders showed a "complete disregard for safety" over a several-month period.

"It was a shock to us to find the activity that the leaders in this organization committed," Escamilla said. "What we learned is that hazing is still alive and pervasive, and there is a lack of concern about the consequences that can follow."

Attorneys for Chan, Nguyen and Pulukuri could not be immediately reached for comment.

The fraternity,Lambda Phi Epsilon, was charged with five counts of hazing. Prosecutors will seek fines against the group, which had anan off-campus fraternity house in the West Campus area.

A five-page probable cause affidavit describes months of hazing, in which pledges were expected to drink large amounts of alcohol and water. The document also describes the Dec. 9, 2005, "crossover night," during which pledges were "encouraged by actives" to drink bottles of rum, vodka and whiskey.

Phoummarath was taken upstairs by an older pledge around 12:30 a.m. and passed out on a mattress, the affidavit said.

The indictments come a year and three days after Phoummarath, an 18-year-old freshman, was found dead about 2 p.m. on Dec. 10. He was later found to have an alcohol level in his urine of 0.5. Medical examiners have said that his blood alcohol level was slightly less. The legal blood alcohol limit for driving in Texas is 0.08.

During the investigation, pledges met to manufacture an official version of the truth about the pledge process, according to the affidavit, which read: "They agreed that they would lie to investigators by omitting all mentions of hazing."

In a rare move, grand jurors included a letter with their indictments.

"We the members of the 403rd grand jury recommend that the court system impose serious penalties for the indictments of hazing and the other illegal actives that occurred within the fraternity," said the grand jurors, who serve anonymously. "By dealing with these crimes with the highest punishment allowable by law, perhaps these traditions can be changed enough to make young people aware of the dangers. . . . The death of Phanta 'Jack' Phoummarath cannot be forgotten or swept under the rug."

Escamilla said the investigation — jointly conducted by Austin police, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the Travis County district and county attorney offices — is ongoing.

Weeks after the death, UT officials suspended Lambda Phi Epsilon's status as a student organization until 2011 and said they had found evidence of hazing.

The university investigation said pledges were expected to wear certain types of clothing, shave their heads and clean up after active members. They also were subject to paddling and lineup interrogations.

In January, Phoummarath's family sued the fraternity and numerous members seeking unspecified damages.

According to the suit, guests at the December fraternity party brought liquor and pressured pledges to drink it. It described how Phoummarath drank until he passed out and how guests and fellow pledges used a permanent marker and began writing vulgar graffiti on his body.

Alcohol-related deaths have struck UT's fraternities and spirit groups before.

In 1995, 19-year-old UT student Gabe Higgins drowned in the Colorado River after drinking during an initiation rite with the Texas Cowboys, a campus spirit group that was disbanded for five years after the incident.

Three years later, 23-year-old business student Jack Ivey Jr. died of alcohol poisoning after a drinking contest with Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity members. An autopsy showed his blood alcohol level was 0.4 — five times the legal limit for driving.

tplohetski@statesman.com; 445-3605

Liz

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4411723.html:

Emphasis added:

Charges don't keep frat from partying Austin group's actions following Houston teen's drinking death surprise officials

By ROBERT CROWE Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

The Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity in Austin began the fall semester the same as always — with plans for a pledge class and plenty of house parties.

It would appear that a criminal investigation following last year's drinking death of 18-year-old Houston freshman Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath — after a frat pledge party — did little to slow them down.

The group threw a series of parties with alcohol culminating in "Scream," its Halloween bash. More than 500 people packed into the Lambda's backyard to see rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Though organizing unofficially off campus did not break any laws, investigators said they did not expect to find the fraternity throwing parties and planning to recruit pledges when members were facing criminal charges.

"It was surprising," said Assistant Travis County Attorney Randy Leavitt.

A Travis County grand jury returned 21 hazing and alcohol-related misdemeanor indictments last week against three former officers of the Lambda Phi Epsilon-Zeta Chapter after investigating Phoummarath's death in December 2005.

Bill White, a defense attorney for former Lambda pledge captain Andrew Nguyen, said the fraternity is not prohibited from organizing or throwing parties off campus.

The group should not be criticized for continuing to have fun and expanding membership, White said. Partying with alcohol, he said, has been a central part of college culture since the inception of fraternity life.

"These people aren't criminals," White said. "They're bright, caring young men in college."

The investigation Leavitt said the facts leading to the indictments tell a different story.

"We are dealing with the facts of this case ... and we intend to send out a message that hazing, when brought to our attention, will not be tolerated," he said.

The district attorney's office renewed its investigation into Phoummarath's alcohol-poisoning death in September after shelving the case during the summer while students were away.

As Leavitt began questioning members this fall, he discovered that their statements differed from the accounts given to the university during a separate inquiry into Phoummarath's death. At the time of his death, the 18-year-old's blood-alcohol level was 0.50, more than six times the legal limit.

"The pledges misrepresented facts to the University of Texas officials," Leavitt said. "They simply didn't tell the truth about hazing activities that went on that semester."

While learning more about Lambda Phi Epsilon's hazing rituals, the county prosecutors became concerned for potential pledges, Leavitt said. As the investigation widened and the threat of charges loomed, county officials pressured the group to call off plans for its 2006 rush.

White acknowledged that the county attorney's office persuaded the group it wasn't ready for a new pledge class.

"They needed to sit down and get some understanding of what happened and, when they do get a pledge class, how those pledges will be treated so they will be in a position to see this never happens again," White said.

Leavitt said the group didn't seem too concerned about whether having another pledge class would offend the Phoummarath family.

"They were more concerned about how they could go about doing it" to increase membership, Leavitt said.

The Phoummarath family was upset to hear that it apparently took the threat of charges for the fraternity to cancel its 2006 pledge class, said Randy Sorrels, the family's attorney in a civil lawsuit.

"Apparently these kids think they're invincible, and this was just a freak accident," he said.

The family was especially upset to learn the fraternity was still organizing parties with alcohol.

Police records and Lambda Phi Epsilon advertisements on MySpace.com and Xanga.com show the group continues to party with alcohol at its new house at 915 Duncan Lane.

Concert broken up Former Lambda Phi Epsilon member Chris Ellis, 20, helped organize the Oct. 27 Scream party, which he called a "concert," at the group's house. He also confirmed that the fraternity had held smaller parties with alcohol this semester.

Ellis, a junior who promotes concerts, decided to combine his Bone Thugs-N-Harmony event with the fraternity's annual Scream party.

"It was going to be a huge party," he said. "We had 900 pre-sale tickets."

Ellis booked the rap group and hired a vendor to handle beer concessions. All party patrons were asked for identification before being sold alcohol, Ellis said.

About 25 minutes into BTH's set, however, police arrived at about 11 p.m. to shut down the party after receiving a noise complaint. Ellis said he is considering legal action against the city because he had party permits from the city.

"The permit was issued in error," said Austin police Lt. Ron Potts.

The officer said large-scale parties with major rap groups are common among UT fraternities. A month before Phoummarath's death last year, Potts formed a task force with Austin police, the city's code enforcement department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to crack down on the backyard concerts, known to attract 1,000 people.

"(Phoummarath's) death verified the need for this task force," Potts said.

All current Lambda Phi Epsilon members contacted for this story declined to comment.

Party atmosphere The scene late last week at the new frat house indicated that the party continues for at least some of the students associated with Lambda Phi Epsilon. From a tree in the front lawn hung a sign, spray painted in orange and black letters, an outdoor light perched above it, that read "open party."

White said it is unfair to judge the fraternity for choosing to move forward after Phoummarath's death.

The fraternity still mourns his passing. Members attended his funeral last year and recently visited his grave on the anniversary of his death, he said.

"All the young men I have talked to are devastated by their friend's death," White said.

Such sentiments, however, ring hollow for the Phoummarath family, Sorrels said.

"You would think after a death, they would change their conduct," he said.

Liz Ditz

More updates

courtTV

Dead fraternity pledge's body contained anti-gay comments, obscene drawings

HOUSTON (AP) — The body of an 18-year-old fraternity pledge who died of alcohol poisoning was defaced with numerous anti-gay epithets and obscene drawings, according to a medical examiner's report.

Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath, a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, died after ingesting large amounts of alcohol at a pledge party at Lambda Phi Epsilon house in December 2005, authorities said. Phoumarrath's body was found the day after.

A grand jury indicted three members of the fraternity last month on hazing charges following a yearlong investigation into Phoummarath's death.

The Travis County medical examiner's office reported that partygoers used green and black markers to write "FAG," "I'm gay" and "I AM FAT" on Phoummarath's head, face, torso, legs and feet. Someone also added drawings depicting naked men and women and blackened his toenails.

"It was disgusting and despicable behavior," Houston attorney Randy Sorrels, who is representing Phoummarath's family, said Tuesday. "This would be the juvenile behavior you might see in junior high or high school, but not college."

Sorrels said Phoummarath was not gay. He said the drawings and epithets were a juvenile prank, and that it had not yet been determined how long before Phoumarrath's death the actions took place.

His family alleges in a lawsuit against the fraternity that pledges were pressured to drink at the party and that someone wrote vulgar graffiti on Phoummarath's body after he passed out. The medical examiner ruled that Phoummarath died of acute alcohol poisoning.

Scribbling on passed-out friends seems to be a part of the binge drinking experience.

Gordie Bailey was also scribbled on:

More Details on Gordie's Death

Thursday, September 16, 2004: Lynn Gordon Bailey was excited to find some places to belong at his new school, Colorado University. Coming from a small and cohesive boarding school, he was looking for some "brothers" to hang with. He tried out for, and made, the lacrosse team (as a walk on), and he'd been invited to join the Chi Psi fraternity. One of the rituals was to be taken high above campus, blindfolded, and made offered wine beer and hard liquor to drink. Gordie complied. By the time the pledges returned, Gordie was hammered, and was escorted to the library and given a bucket.


Friday, September 17, 2004 1 am: Gordie was so insensible from alcohol that he did not rouse when his "brothers" wrote vulgarities on his face and body. The phrases....included "It sucks to be you," "Penis ankle"....and "(Expletive) me." There were also drawings of male genitalia. "Bitch" was written on the fingers of his right hand. Other phrases included an offensive six-letter racial slur." Lynn Gordon Bailey was discovered to be dead around 8:30 am Friday morning.

Seriously, if you draw on a friend and the friend doesn't rouse, call 911.

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