Friday, February 16, 2007

2004 Colorado Fraternity Death Goes to Trial

Trial for U. Colorado hazing death scheduled
Colorado Daily
By Nicole Danna

The trial for a civil lawsuit filed by Leslie Lanahan, the mother of Lynn Gordon "Gordie" Bailey, has been set for March 10, 2008.

The lawsuit, filed in 2006 against the Chi Psi Fraternity and seven members of the University of Colarado at Boulder Chi Psi chapter, claims the fraternity and its members displayed "reckless misconduct" due to the ritual hazing that led to Bailey's death in 2004.

By bringing the case to court, Michael Lanahan -- Bailey's stepfather -- said the lawsuit was a way to "continue to the pursuit of justice," and address what he believes was a tragic and preventable loss of life.

"We don't want another family to experience this, and hopefully this lawsuit will achieve that goal," Lanahan said Tuesday.

Lanahan said that for the past two years his family has been communicating with the fraternity in hopes of changing its policies to make fraternities provide "a safer environment" for college students."

And they weren't willing to make any changes, and at the end of the day, the only avenue to take was to legal recourse ... and that's a sad thing," Lanahan said.
"I don't think fraternities can be allowed to continue these initiation practices ... and no one is willing to take responsibility."

In May of 2005, former Chi Psi fraternity brothers Christopher Jones, 21, and Brett Herter, 19, pleaded guilty to the charge of providing alcohol to a minor. Each defendant was given a 12-month deferred sentence in return for his plea of "guilty." The maximum penalty for a class two misdemeanor is a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Bailey's family, however, has taken responsibility where it's due, said Lanahan."We have taken public responsibility for not talking to Gordie more about drinking, but the fraternities haven't," Lanahan said on his motivation to bring the fraternities and its members to justice.

Sam Bessey, Chi Psi executive director for the chapter's national governing body headquartered in Tennessee, declined to comment.

Lanahan's lawsuit alleges that Bailey, who was a business major from Dallas, was pledging to join the CU-Boulder Chi Psi fraternity chapter when he died due to acute alcohol poisoning after an initiation ritual, otherwise known as hazing.
According to Boulder Police Department records, the ritual pressured Bailey and 26 fellow pledges to consume 10 bottles of whiskey, six 1.75 liter bottles of wine, and three kegs of beer alongside fraternity members. They were were blindfolded and driven to Gold Hill in the mountains west of Boulder Sept. 16, 2004, where they passed around alcohol for about 30 minutes before returning to the fraternity house.

Although there is no evidence that Bailey was forced to drink alcohol, or continued to drink once the pledges returned to Boulder at approximately 11 p.m., it is clear the 18-year-old participated in the tradition of drinking alcohol provided during the chapter's initiation ritual, an act otherwise known as hazing. By 9 a.m. the next morning, Bailey -- who had been found passed out in the library room floor earlier that morning due to what would later be discovered as a blood alcohol level of .328 percent -- was pronounced dead by paramedics who arrived on the scene.

The lawsuit also alleges that 10 hours passed from the time fraternity members noticed Bailey may have been in need of medical help until they called emergency personnel to the Chi Psi house.

Now, as the doors to the Boulder Chi Psi fraternity house remain closed since its charter was revoked shortly after Bailey's death, doors are beginning to open for his family, who have struggled to keep his memory alive by filing the lawsuit last year.
According to Boulder District Judge Carol Glowinsky, the lawsuit can proceed despite the argument that the Dram Shop Law protects the fraternity and its members from Lanahan's allegations. The dram shop laws are intended to protect the general public from the hazards of irresponsibly serving alcohol to minors and intoxicated patrons.

Although the judge cannot discuss pending cases, in a written statement Glowinsky said the defendant was not a "social host," meaning the fraternity and its member cannot waive liability under the Dram Shop Law, if the allegations in the complaint are true.

The defendant's attorney, Jim Goldfarb of Senter Goldfarb & Rice, L.L.C. of Denver, did not return phone calls to the Colorado Daily Tuesday.

Lanahan, who has waited over a year for the court date to be set, is positive about its outcome.

"We are totally committed as a family to making a difference, and we're going to make change," said Lanahan. "It just doesn't happen overnight."